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Spelman Honors the Life and Legacy of Social Justice Warrior John Lewis

July 2020

Spelman College Celebrates the Life of Congressman John LewisJohn Lewis loved Black people unconditionally. And he loved justice just as much. With the death of the Georgia Congressman, the world has lost a valiant social justice warrior. On behalf of the trustees, faculty, students and staff of Spelman College, I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones.

Congressman Lewis brought his heart, body and soul to his life’s work. As a young man, he was a global ambassador for nonviolent protests as a path to eradicate injustice. As a Congressman, he never lost an opportunity to champion equity for all of his constituents. He never stopped fighting. Spelman College intends to name an endowed scholarship after Congressman Lewis to celebrate his life. When funded, the scholarship will provide a one-time tuition contribution of $10K, awarded every year to five Social Justice Fellows, led by Dr. Cynthia Neal Spence, C'78. We believe that the best way to honor Congressman Lewis is to lift up those who are carrying out his work.

Conversation with John Lewis and Friends

View Congressman John Lewis and Social Justice Fellows Photo Album in Flickr.

As we navigate today’s turbulent waters, we draw inspiration and courage for our challenges from the Congressman’s decades of selfless sacrifice, ardent advocacy and steadfast commitment for not just racial equality, but equity for all. Spelman was blessed to have him on our campus, engaging with our students, numerous times over the years. Just last spring he encouraged our social justice fellows to stay vigilant in the fight for truth and righteousness when the College joined the UNCF in honoring congressional lawmakers who have served as true champions and strong advocates for HBCUs and their students.

John Lewis leaves behind an extraordinary civil rights legacy: organizing the March on Washington; challenging segregated interstate travel and pioneering new territory with voter registration as one of the original 13 Freedom Riders; co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; and using his voice to be an outspoken supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. He set a stellar example of how, in his words – to get into “good trouble” – in service of justice can transform our country and the world.

We mourn his loss and celebrate his brave, radiant life.

With sorrow,
Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.
President, Spelman College

Gone but Never Forgotten: Celebrating a Life Well Lived

(A biographical excerpt from Congressman John Lewis' Website)

John R. Lewis, the son of Alabama sharecroppers, was born February 21, 1940, just outside of Troy, Alabama. At that time African Americans in the South were subjected to a humiliating segregation and systematic discrimination and intimidation.

As John Lewis began to hear his calling clearer and clearer he furthered his education by attending the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee and later earned a Bachelor's Degree in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University. As a student his unwavering dynamic influence allowed him to start organizing students and others to join the Civil Rights Movement following the direction of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As the movement gained momentum John Lewis joined the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that would be at the forefront of the students against Jim Crow in America.

Spelman Bids Farewell to Congressman John LewisFrom the Bus Boycott in Montgomery John Lewis continued to find a way to get in the way. He organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee and volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides across the south, challenging segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. He was arrested more than 40 times, attacked by angry mobs, and severely beaten by the police, often for simply sitting in seats reserved for white patrons.

Serving as the president of the SNCC from 1963 to 1966, John Lewis was recognized as one of the "Big Six" leaders of the Civil Rights Movement along with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins. As a young man he continued the fight against Jim Crow. Lewis helped coordinate and delivered the Keynote address at the March on Washington in August 1963, where Dr. King's gave the historical "I Have a Dream" speech.

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