NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Two organizations related to the late Congressman John Lewis have spoken out against a proposal to rename a portion of Rep. John Lewis Way.
Following the proposed legislation from Rep. Paul Sherrell (R—Sparta) and Sen. Frank Niceley (R—Strawberry Plains), which would rename .2 miles of Rep. John Lewis Way nearest to Capitol Hill as President Donald Trump Boulevard and change all legislative office address located on that roadway, both the John R. Lewis Legacy Institute and the John and Lillian Miles Lewis Foundation have disavowed the measure and are asking lawmakers to halt their consideration of it.
The organizations issued a joint statement late last week after news of the measure broke. In it, they expressed their “surprise, outrage, sadness and disappointment” that the legislature would attempt to “undermine the legacy of Congressman Lewis.”
“The bill proposed by Tennessee State Senator Frank Niceley and Representative Paul Sherell to rename John Lewis Way in Nashville to honor former president Donald Trump is spiteful, mean-spirited, petty, disrespectful, and misguided. Congressman Lewis led lunch counter sit-ins on this street, which ignited the Nashville Student Movement and the Freedom Rides, and gave birth to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,” said Michael Collins, John and Lillian Miles Lewis Foundation Board Chair. Collins also served as the congressman’s chief of staff and floor assistant for 21 years.
Additionally, Collins said in the statement, “As far as I have been able to tell, Trump had no relationship to the street.”
“The proposed renaming is a slap in the face not only to John Lewis, but to everyone who cares about all that John Lewis fought for and stands for. People who know and value the history of civil rights in the United States and its influence around the world, people of goodwill all over the country, family, friends, supporters, and colleagues of Congressman John Lewis are appalled. So are we,” Collins said.
Garry Lowe, Vice-Chair and Co-Founder of the John Robert Lewis Legacy Institute and a cousin of the late Congressman, said the timing of the legislation seemed suspect in the statement.
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“It seems calculated that Senator Niceley and Representative Sherell would introduce this bill during Black History Month and at the same time we celebrate the Nashville sit-ins,” he said. “It is an affront to Lewis’ legacy of building bridges, crossing aisles, and facilitating dialogue. It is especially offensive as the nation mourns the murder of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. The late Congressman Lewis once said, ‘Do not get lost in the sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year. It is the struggle of a lifetime.’ We as a people and a nation must continue to fight against what is not just.”
In addition to the issued statement, both Collins and Lowe spoke with News 2 about the bills, adding that renaming the street at all so soon after it was officially named in honor of the late Congressman was a disservice to his legacy.
“It is very concerning that at a time like this, these two legislators would [use] their time to bring down the legacy of Congressman John Lewis and everything that he stood for by changing the name and replacing it with someone else,” Collins said.
Both Collins and Lowe said they weren’t as offended that the legislators are seeking to rename the roadway after the former president as they were that they were attempting to rename the road at all.
“It’s anybody at all,” Collins said.
The renaming of the street for the late congressman was “an honor and a testament to his legacy,” he said, and “to have it be reserved with the name of President Donald Trump is very disrespectful and mean-spirited. I just don’t understand why.”
“It’s not necessarily the fact that it’s the former president, because we understand that he’s loved in many parts of the country,” Lowe told News 2. “It’s no secret that the two didn’t have a great relationship. It’s the fact that they are trying to rename it. It just happened a couple years ago. Our standpoint is there are hundreds, thousands of streets in Nashville, and to pick this particular street is a slap in the face.”
Lowe said the Legacy Institute, as well as the Lewis family, is calling for both bills to be removed.
“When you take a look at it, it’s Black History Month. We’re also celebrating the sit-ins, and then in a couple of weeks we’ll be celebrating what would’ve been Congressman Lewis’s 83rd birthday,” he said. “We definitely feel like it was intentional, that’s where the disrespect comes in. We’re not happy about it and are asking for those bills to be removed. It definitely feels intentional.”
“We encourage people to stand up and speak out about this,” Collins said. “This is not something that should go quietly.”
In addition to both organizations calling for the bills’ removal, two different online petitions on the bills have also begun circulating. Metro Councilwoman Zulfat Suara, who was a key figure in getting the roadway named for Lewis in 2020 and who sits on the John Lewis Way Committee, shared a ForwardTN.org petition that asks the legislators not to rename the roadway. As of Wednesday, the petition has over 4,000 signatures. There is also a Change.org petition asking the same with over 1,100 signatures.
News 2 has reached out to both sponsors’ offices on the bill but has not heard back.
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