The Class of 2014 will hear from one of the most iconic voices of the Civil Rights movement when Georgia Congressman John Lewis, often described as “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,” delivers the keynote address at the SVA commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 15.
Admired by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, the 14-term Congressman has dedicated his life to protecting human rights and civil liberties in America. He is the co-author, with SVA alumnus Nate Powell (BFA 2000 Cartooning) and writer Andrew Aydin, of March: Book One (Top Shelf Productions, 2013), the #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel. He is also the author of Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change (Hyperion, 2012), winner of the 2012 NAACP Image Award for Best Literary Work-Biography.
John Lewis helped spearhead one of the most seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement: the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. What began as a peaceful, orderly protest, organized to draw attention to the need for voting rights in the state, became a brutal attack by Alabama
state troopers. News broadcasts and photographs of “Bloody Sunday” revealed the senseless cruelty of the segregated South, helping to hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Born the son of sharecroppers in Alabama in 1940, John Lewis grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools. He was inspired as a young boy by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States ever since.
As a university student, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. He risked his life as a Freedom Rider in 1961 to challenge segregation at bus terminals across the South. As a young man he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. At age 23 he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in 1963.
Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. He continued his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement as a leader in the Voter Education Project, transforming the nation’s political climate by adding nearly four million minority voters to the rolls.
In 1977, Lewis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency. He was elected to the Atlanta City Council in 1981, advocating for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. In 1986 he was elected to Congress, where he continues to serve as U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District. He is Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, a member of its Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support and Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on Oversight.
John Lewis holds a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary. His numerous awards include the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, granted by President Barack Obama; the Lincoln Medal from the historic Ford’s Theatre; the National Education Association’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Award; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize; and honors from the Academy of Excellence, Georgetown University and the NAACP. He is the only recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Lewis’s biography is entitled Walking With The Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. He is also the subject of two other books: Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement, by Ann Bausum; and John Lewis in the Lead, by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, with illustrations by famous Georgia artist, Bennie Andrews.
Lewis’s keynote remarks to the Class of 2014 will be streamed live from the Theater at Madison Square Garden. See and hear the complete commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 15 at 1:00pm at www.sva.edu/commencement.