Miami mourns the loss of U.S. Rep. John Lewis

Rep. John Lewis

U.S. Rep. John Lewis

U.S. Rep. John Lewis died July 17 at the age of 80. The Georgia Democrat was a leader in the 1964 Freedom Summer voter registration of Black residents in the South.

Lewis began his activism with the 1961 Freedom Rides, challenging segregated interstate bus terminals across the South. Though peacefully protesting, he was beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police.

From 1963 to 1966, Lewis was chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. The SNCC was largely responsible for organizing civic student activism, including sit-ins and other activities.

As the young chairman of the SNCC, Lewis encouraged college students around the U.S. to help register African-Americans in Mississippi to vote.

An estimated 800 volunteers went through orientation training June 14-27, 1964 at the Western College for Women, which is now part of Miami's Western campus in Oxford, Ohio.

The campus features a Freedom Summer Memorial honoring three civil rights activists — Michael Schwerner, 24, James Chaney, 21, and Andrew Goodman, 20 — who were murdered in Mississippi soon after leaving Oxford.

Before working in more formal voting rights agencies, Lewis endured 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries in his justice-seeking endeavors.

He was a co-leader, on March 7, 1965, of more than 600 peaceful, orderly protestors marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, intending to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as "Bloody Sunday."

Lewis was active in numerous other civil rights efforts and activities over the years. He was elected to Congress in 1986, representing Georgia's 5th Congressional District since then.

He was the first recipient of Miami University’s Freedom Summer of ’64 Award.

Miami presented the award to the civil rights icon in a special ceremony on March 19, 2018, in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. Students, alumni and guests recognized Lewis for his lifetime of civil rights accomplishments.

"Congressman John Lewis was a leader who, in the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., aspired to be a 'drum major for justice.' It is important that we all keep that spirit alive to advance equity and achieve justice for all," said Ron Scott, vice president for institutional diversity.

President Greg Crawford said, "As we mourn the loss of this extraordinary leader, Congressman John Lewis, we are inspired by his legacy to advance the work of bringing about equality and justice in our time. As Western Alumnae and Miamians shared in honoring Congressman Lewis with our inaugural Freedom Summer of ’64 Award in 2018, he shared his wisdom and passion with us all – ‘To find a way to get in the way, and to never, ever give up.’”