President of American Baptist College remembers life of Congressman John Lewis

Local News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – As the country paused Thursday for the final funeral service of Congressman John Lewis, Nashville was brought to the forefront as a place where Lewis’ journey in civil rights began.

“The boy from Troy attempted to get admitted to Troy University,” said Dr. Forrest Harris, President of American Baptist College. “But, Troy University and the segregated culture that it was at that time refused his admission.”

In 1957, Lewis left his small-town home in Alabama to study at the then American Baptist Theological Seminary, which is now known as American Baptist. There, Dr. Harris says Lewis began his non-violent fight against social inequality between classes.

“John Lewis was like a magnet,” said Dr. Harris. “He absorbed the philosophy and embodied it in such a way that non-violence was not a tactic. It became his way of life.”

During his senior year in 1961, Lewis was jailed in Hinds County, Mississippi and sent a hand-written letter to the academic dean on campus.

The letter read in part: “We are here in jail for the cause of justice and freedom for all people.”

“He didn’t say just black people… He said all people,” said Dr. Harris. “This is a student — a young man — who has a vision. And, {for him} to go on to say “We are not going to lose because God is on our side.”

Lewis’s determination while in college was just a prelude to the impact Lewis would soon have on the American Civil Right’s Movement and later on Capitol Hill.

“He was so consistent and disciplined with it throughout his life,” Dr. Harris said. “We now are stewards of that legacy. And how we perpetuate that legacy is to give it voice in civic engagement…. give it voice in political understandings of our communities and how we can forge forth a better transformative experience of flourishing for all citizens.”

Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011.

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