John Robert Lewis (February 21, 1940 – July 17, 2020) was an American statesman and civil rights leader who served Georgia’s congressional 5th district in the United States House of Representatives for 17 terms (from 1987 until his death in 2020). Due to his years of service, Lewis was named dean of the Georgia congregational delegation, representing most of Atlanta.
As a social justice advocate and icon, in 1961, Lewis became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders (seven blacks and six whites) determined to ride from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans, Louisiana in an integrated fashion. As freedom rides, sit-ins and bus boycotts were being organized across the South, Lewis and others were met with threats and endured violence and imprisonment. He was one of the “Big Six” leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington to bring awareness to the fight for voting rights and racial equality. In 1965, Lewis led the march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. This march, otherwise known as “Bloody Sunday”, ignited the historical passing of the Voting Rights Act.
As a leader of the Democratic Party, Lewis served from 1991 as the Chief Deputy Whip and from 2003 as Senior Chief Deputy Whip within the House of Representatives. He introduced the legislation that led to the establishment of the Smithsonian’s African American Heritage Museum in Washington, D.C. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Mr. Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifelong commitment to the nation and the fight for civil rights.
As a lifelong adherent to non-violence philosophies, Mr. Lewis will be remembered for his belief that in the fight for social justice and equality, we must be willing to get into “good trouble, necessary trouble”.
The Scholarship will be awarded in a cash and tuition award of $10,000.