Metro Council members and others are hoping to set aside a special day this year commemorating a Georgia congressman who once studied in Nashville and remains one of the nation’s leading African-American civil rights leaders.
On Tuesday, the council will consider a resolution that would proclaim March 23, 2011, “John Lewis Day” in honor of U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who played an instrumental role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, having chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which organized student activism and sit-ins in the South.
One of 15 individuals set to receive the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in February, Lewis received his education in Nashville, graduating from both American Baptist College and Fisk University.
“He’s always been somebody that I looked up to in public service and community service as a whole,” said Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr., one of five council members to sponsor the resolution. “That’s why it [is] really such an honor for me.”
Lewis, who has served in Congress since 1987, gained his greatest prominence for helping lead a series of famous marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in March 1965 to advocate for voting rights in the state. The marches led to a bloody confrontation with Alabama state troopers, leaving Lewis with a fractured skull.
Matthews said the idea to commemorate Lewis with the special day came from American Baptist College, which would like to honor Lewis locally to coincide with the congressman’s national recognition from Obama.
“That movement and that expression of compassion for all of America started here,” said Emily Jenkins, director of administrative services at American Baptist College. “Lewis wasn’t born here, but he had a significant impact once he arrived here [in Nashville] years ago.”
The third of the three Selma marches took place between March 21 and March 25, which could make March 23 a fitting date for the Nashville tribute.
Jenkins said the date also works out logistically in hopes of having Lewis visit Nashville to speak.