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Statement from Tuskegee University President Dr. Lily D. McNair Honoring the Legacy and Impact of Congressman John Lewis

July 22, 2020

John Lewis receives Honorary degree from Dr. Benjamin Payton
Honorary Doctor of Laws degree presented to Representative John Lewis by Tuskegee University President, Dr. Benjamin F. Payton.

"We are not called to bring ease and comfort.  We are called to act and speak the truth."-- John Lewis, Tuskegee University Address, 1973

Representative John Lewis

Like the rest of the world, the Tuskegee University family is deeply saddened by the passing of civil rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis.  A native son of Alabama, his unwavering commitment to advocate for equal rights served as a beacon of hope for many African Americans during the Civil Rights era.   His efforts to protect human rights inspired many to follow in his footsteps.  

Tuskegee University sends its prayers and deepest condolences to the Lewis family as they mourn the passing of a man that meant so much to so many people.   Our students, faculty, and staff are eternally grateful to have known such a remarkable civil rights legend who spurred the United States to live up to its ideals.

Tuskegee University and John Lewis shared many special connections.  Lewis and his family grew up less than 50 miles from our campus. His involvement in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee led him to work closely with Tuskegee Institute student Sammy Younge, Jr.  In March 1965, Lewis and Young would join hundreds of other justice seekers on Bloody Sunday as they marched across Selma’s Edmond Pettus Bridge.  Less than a year later, Younge would become the first African-American student murdered while working in the civil rights movement. 

In April 1973, Lewis would come to campus to share his experiences with students in Tuskegee’s Chapel.   As he addressed our students, he encouraged them to use both peace and action as they worked to make the world better.  After his 1986 election to Congress to represent Georgia’s 5th District, Lewis would carve out a reputation for his thoughtful approach, earning him the moniker as the “conscience of the Congress.”  Remembering his challenges as a young student, he would also develop a reputation as a vocal advocate for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  During the 2009 Founders’ Day Convocation, Tuskegee would again honor Lewis and his numerous contributions to our nation by bestowing an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Laws.  Tuskegee and all HBCUs will be forever grateful for his strong and unwavering support.

The works of Congressman John Lewis have surely earned him a place alongside other prominent Americans including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Alabama’s Rosa Parks and Amelia Boynton Robinson.  May the works of John Lewis encourage us all to vote, fight against injustice and seek to do what is right for one and all.  

Tuskegee University Archives, John Lewis, April 8, 1973

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