Civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis will deliver the spring commencement address at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the school announced today.
Lewis also will be awarded the 2015 Human Rights Medal presented by N.C. A&T. The medal is awarded annually to an individual who has strived to correct social injustice and has contributed significantly to the betterment of the world.
It is awarded to courageous men and women whose actions reflect those demonstrated by the four A&T freshmen – Ezell Blair Jr. (Jibreel Khazan), Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond Jr. – whose peaceful sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter ignited the national sit-in movement in 1960. Lewis himself organized lunch-counter sit-ins as a student at Fisk University in Nashville.
Commencement will be held Saturday, May 9, beginning at 8:30 a.m., in the Greensboro Coliseum.
First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986, Lewis has been called “the conscience of the U.S. Congress.”
He is recognized as one of the most courageous and effective leaders of the civil rights movement. He was one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961 at the age of 21. Two years later, he became nationally known as a leader of the civil rights movement as an organizer and speaker at the March on Washington.
Lewis served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from 1963-66. He was an organizer of the Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights on March 7, 1965. Leading 600 marchers, he suffered a broken skull when police attacked the group on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
He continued his activism on voting rights into the 1970s. President Jimmy Carter named him director of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency, in 1977. His career as an elected official began in 1981 when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. Today, he represents Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, which covers much of Atlanta.
Lewis holds a B.A. in religion and philosophy from Fisk, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, also in Nashville. He has received many national and international honors, including the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor; the Capital Award of the National Council of La Raza; and the only John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award” for Lifetime Achievement ever granted by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
He is the co-author of the bestselling and widely honored graphic novel trilogy “March,” a memoir of the civil rights movement. He published his autobiography, “Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement,” in 1998.