By Lisa James Goldsbeery
he Honorable John Lewis, United States Representative for the 5th Congressional District of Georgia and a major civil rights activist, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University at Albany on Thursday, Feb. 15. The honorary degree convocation will be at 2:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center (PAC). This is the highest honor bestowed by the State University of New York system.
“The Honorable John Lewis has dedicated his life and repeatedly risked his personal safety to champion the rights of his fellow citizens. The United States is a tangibly better country for his efforts and the University at Albany is proud to recognize his many accomplishments with this honorary degree,” said University President Karen R. Hitchcock.
Lewis will also serve as keynote speaker for UAlbany’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Luncheon, to be held the same day at noon in the Campus Center Ballroom. Both the convocation and the luncheon are free and open to the public.
“No other United States elected official embodies the grand legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. more than U.S. Representative John Lewis,” said Carson Carr, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs and director of Albany’s Educational Opportunities Program. “He is a national treasure.”
Carr will present “Congressman John Lewis: A Video Workshop” on Wednesday, Feb. 14, at 7 p.m. in Lecture Center 19. The program will give an historical perspective on the contributions of Lewis. Carr and Virgil Hodges, former executive director of the Martin Luther King Institute for Non-Violence, will speak and answer questions. The workshop is free and open to the public.
Born the son of sharecroppers in 1940 in Alabama, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Tennessee and was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which he helped to found. In 1961, he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which were organized to challenge segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South.
At age 23, he was recognized as one of the six primary leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and was an organizer and keynote speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, D.C. Lewis coordinated voter registration drives during the “Mississippi Freedom Summer” in 1964. He was at the front of the line during both of the legendary marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, where a clubbing by Alabama State Troopers fractured his skull. One major result of the “Mississippi Freedom Summer” was the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Lewis went on to become director of the Voter Education Project which, under his leadership, changed the country’s political climate by adding virtually four million minorities to voter rolls. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Lewis to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency.
Elected to Congress in 1986, Lewis co-chairs the Congressional Urban Caucus and is a member of both the Congressional Caucus on Anti-Semitism and the Congressional Committee to Support Writers and Journalists. In 1998, Lewis co-authored Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, with writer Michael D’Orso. The book, a firsthand account of the Civil Rights movement, received the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1999.
For more than thirty years, Lewis has taken on major leadership roles in the struggles for human and civil rights in the U.S., dedicating his life to securing personal dignity and building what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called “The Beloved Community.”
Immediately after the convocation, there will be a reception for Lewis in the Futterer Lounge of the PAC.