As a boy, John Lewis could not check out a book from the Troy, Ala., public library because of the color of his skin. In 1955, as a 15-year-old, he first heard about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Today, 59 years later, Congressman Lewis is the only living member of the “Big Six” leaders from the Civil Rights Movement which included Dr. King. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Rep. Lewis helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, which was the occasion of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He was the youngest speaker that day at age 23 and the last surviving speaker from the March.
Rep. Lewis visited the McCallie School Tuesday as the school’s inaugural “Mandela Fellow.” McCallie alumnus Bob Eager ’63 started the Mandela Fund in 2013.
“The Mandela Fund was established to advance students’ understanding of what it means to be, like Nelson Mandela, an agent of hope, reconciliation and social justice in a community, the nation or the world,” Mr. Eager said.
The foundation for the Fund is grounded in McCallie’s guiding principles – “Honor, Truth, Duty” – exemplified in Mr. Mandela’s life and leadership. The Fund intends to complement and reinforce the school’s mission of preparing young men to make a positive difference in their world.
Rep. Lewis was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986 and has been reelected 13 times. He has met or worked with every U.S. president since John F. Kennedy.
Rep. Lewis gave a morning talk to the Upper School student body in the Chapel. He shared personal stories and experiences in an AP U.S. history class and an African-American history class. During the lunch hour, he led a student discussion forum.
“Never give in, never give up,” he said, as part of his main message to the students. “Do not be afraid to speak up when you see something wrong. We are all part of one family, the human family.”
Rep. Lewis first met Dr. King in 1958. In fact, Dr. King helped Rep. Lewis get into Peabody College in Nashville, he said. He also met Mr. Mandela who told him he was well aware of his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
And the Troy library? Rep. Lewis finally returned there in 1998 for a book signing of one of his three books.