NASHVILLE, TN — American Baptist College and First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, will join together to host the Rep. John Lewis Memorial Celebration, on Friday, July 16, as part of a weekend of activities honoring the Civil Rights legend.
The weekend will include the viewing of the five-story mural, unveiling of the historical marker, the memorial celebration, a seminar, the formal street sign unveiling, and a ceremonial march — all culminating with a celebration program.
The Memorial Celebration will take place at 6 p.m. on Friday, July 16, at First Baptist
Church, Capitol Hill, 625 Rosa L. Parks Blvd. Members of the Lewis family will be in attendance, with Rep. Lewis’s brother, Henry Grant Lewis, addressing the
audience. The Grammy-winning Fisk Jubilee Singers will perform, and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson will be among the speakers. A replica of the Greyhound bus ridden by the
Freedom Riders will be on display at American Baptist College from 10 a.m. -2 p.m.
and at First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, from 4 p.m. until the end of the celebration.
“This weekend allows us to publicly honor the legacy of a man who willingly sacrificed for a cause greater than himself,” said Dr. Forrest Harris, president of American Baptist College. As part of the weekend celebration, American Baptist College’s S.E. A. L. Initiatives (Social Justice, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership) will host a seminar entitled “How Are We Freedom Riding Today?”
John Lewis came to American Baptist College as a 17-year-old to earn his degree in theology, even though he was
interested in social justice. History reports that he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking on the radio and was
captivated, feeling his desire to make the world more equitable and equal was validated. Lewis attempted to attend the all-white Troy State University in Alabama, but was denied because of his race. He sought the counsel of Dr. King, who told him to go to American Baptist College.
Lewis went on to become one of the leaders in youthful-led Civil Rights activities with his school mates at American Baptist College: Rev. C. T. Vivian, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Rev. James Bevel, Rev. Julius Scruggs, and others from area colleges and the community such as Dr. Diane Nash, Mr. Kwame Leo Lilliard, Mrs. Gloria McKissack, Rev. James White, Mrs. Frankie Henry, Rev. Troy Merritt, Mrs. Novella Page, and many, many more. Rev. James Lawson, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, trained them in non-violent protest. Lewis once touted that he had been arrested 45 times in his lifetime and would have gladly been arrested more for the cause of freedom and equality
Lewis has the distinction of holding degrees from both American Baptist College and Fisk University. He and fellow
American Baptist College alumnus Rev. C.T. Vivian are both recipients of the highest civilian honor in the country, the Medal of Freedom, which they both received from President Barack Obama. Lewis died on the evening of Friday, July 17, 2020, just hours after the passing of Rev. Vivian.
“This weekend allows all of Nashville to honor this great man for all he did, which started here in the Music City. His legacy is entrusted in us and must live on,” said Rev. Kelly Miller Smith, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, which – along with Clark Memorial and Gordon Memorial churches – is where much of the Civil Rights movement’s non-violent training took place.
“This city-wide celebration will honor Congressman Lewis and the molding he experienced here in Nashville,” said Dr.
Glenda Glover, president of Tennessee State University. Students from TSU who participated in the sit-ins and Freedom Rides were expelled at the time, but later allowed to return to school. In recent years, they received honorary doctorate degrees from the university.
“This will be a special weekend in the life of our city as we come together to honor Rep. John Lewis and recognize his passion for civil justice and contributions to our nation,” said Zulfat Suara, chair of the Rep. John Lewis Way Committee and an at-large member of the Metro Council. “It is fitting that we will finally be able to dedicate the street, in his memory, on the first anniversary of his passing.”
Masks and distanced seating will be required at the memorial celebration at First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill. For information and to see the entire schedule, visit www.abcnash.edu or www.rep.johnlewisway.org.