U.S. Congressman, Civil Rights Leader John Lewis to Speak March 31 at Ohio Wesleyan University
By Cole Hatcher
DELAWARE, Ohio – Called “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,” U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is the last survivor of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Lewis will discuss his extraordinary experiences at 7 p.m. March 31 at Ohio Wesleyan University.
During the free public event, Ohio Wesleyan will award the congressman an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, the university’s highest recognition. Lewis will speak and be recognized in Gray Chapel inside University Hall, 61 S. Sandusky St., Delaware. He also will sign copies of his autobiography, “Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement,” after his presentation, which will be streamed online at https://www.owu.edu/about/follow-owu/stream-owu/.
“Congressman Lewis has been called ‘the conscience of the U.S. Congress,’ and the title is fitting, indeed,” said Ohio Wesleyan President Rock Jones, Ph.D. “For more than 50 years, he has exemplified determination and dignity, passion and purpose, in his efforts to bring about Civil Rights reform. Ohio Wesleyan is honored to welcome him to campus, hear his reflections, and bestow upon him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.”
Lewis was born Feb. 21, 1940, near Troy, Ala., where he attended segregated public schools. As a young boy, he recalls being inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., heard on radio broadcasts.
In the 1960s, as a student at Fisk University, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters. In 1961, he participated in Freedom Rides, challenging segregation at interstate bus terminals throughout the South by sitting in seats reserved for white patrons. From 1963 to 1966, he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. By 1963, he had been named one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.
At age 23, Lewis was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963. A year later, he coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. In 1965, he and fellow Civil Rights leader Hosea Williams led more than 600 peaceful protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., intending to walk to Montgomery to demonstrate the state’s need for voting rights. The marchers were attacked by state troopers in a brutal “Bloody Sunday” confrontation that helped to hasten passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Since that time, Lewis has devoted his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls “The Beloved Community” in America. He was elected to Congress in 1986 and has served as the U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District for nearly 30 years. Today he is Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party in leadership in the House, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, a member of its Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, and Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on Oversight.
Lewis holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville, Tenn. In addition to “Walking with the Wind” (1998), Lewis also is the author of “Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change” (2012) and co-author of the No. 1 New York Times best-selling graphic novel “March” (2013), created with writer Andrew Aydin and award-winning artist Nate Powell. Copies of his autobiography will be available for purchase prior to the book signing.
Lewis said he looks forward to visiting Ohio Wesleyan, which also has played a role in U.S. civil rights history. Branch Rickey, while a student and baseball coach at Ohio Wesleyan in the early 1900s, witnessed discrimination against one of his players and vowed to help end segregation if he ever had the chance. In 1945, Rickey, as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Jackie Robinson and, together, they helped to end Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
“I am pleased to be recognized by Ohio Wesleyan, which has its own legacy of service,” Lewis said. “Involvement is critical if we are to continue to advance our society and to grow in understanding and respect for the rights of others.”
Learn more about Congressman Lewis at johnlewis.house.gov.
Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private, coed university offers more than 90 undergraduate majors, minors, and concentrations, and competes in 23 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Ohio Wesleyan combines a challenging, internationally focused curriculum with off-campus learning and leadership opportunities to connect classroom theory with real-world practice. OWU’s 1,850 students represent 42 states and 37 countries. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” listed on the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction, and included in the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “best colleges” lists. Learn more at www.owu.edu.