Tech Honors Civil Rights Legend John Lewis

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“It was people like John Lewis who kept me keeping on,” recounted Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a journalist and the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Georgia.

Hunter-Gault was just one of many who gathered on April 4 to honor a survivor of the “Bloody Sunday” beatings with the 2013 Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage. That same day marked the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I didn’t like those signs [the colored and white signs found in the south],” Congressman John Lewis said when asked what prompted him to get involved with civil rights. “I wanted to do something about them.”

At age 25, Lewis became known around the world following the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” beatings of peaceful protesters in Selma, Ala. His impact on civil rights for African-Americans included advocating for desegregation laws and voters’ rights.

The celebration honoring Lewis, which is named for the late Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., included the Allen Prize Symposium. The symposium kicked off with a panel of faculty members from the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts discussing how their work at Tech translates into helping local to international communities.

For example, Sheri Davis-Faulkner, community liaison for the Westside Communities Alliance, discussed some of the ways that she is connecting Tech people and resources to the communities surrounding the Institute. (To learn more about these efforts and how you can get involved, contact Davis-Faulkner.)

During another session, Hunter-Gault; Wyche Fowler Jr., a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Sherry Frank, former executive director of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Jewish Committee; and Andrew Young, former ambassador to the United Nations, shared memories of Lewis. President Bill Clinton, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu also sent pre-recorded messages.

Another highlight of the morning was a Q&A session that included Lewis and his friends. During the discussion, he was asked to share his thoughts about a civil rights issue that is currently front-and-center — the issue of gay marriage.

“If two individuals want to get married, that’s their business,” he said. “You can’t have equality for some and not for all if you’re going to carry out the meaning of the 14th Amendment.”

When asked to share his advice for students, Lewis told them to find a cause that they are passionate about and advocate for it.

“Give it your all and never give up or give in or give out,” he said. “Whatever you do, do it with faith, hope, and much love.”

Lewis accepted his award in front of a standing ovation during a lunch program held at The Biltmore. The Social Courage award is given annually to individuals who, by asserting moral principle, positively affect public discourse at the risk of their careers, livelihoods and, sometimes, even their lives.   

“I always did what I could do to help other people,” Lewis said at the ceremony while reflecting on his role in the civil rights movement. “I wanted to make a difference in order to meet the pressing need of people left out or left behind. I was inspired to find a way to a ‘new way.’ And this inspires me today, as I continue to keep pushing on.”



  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Amelia Pavlik
  • Created: 04/15/2013
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016

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