John Lewis, civil rights leader and congressman, to be awarded with Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen Prize

By Maria Saporta

The 2013 recipient of the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage will be U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), a civil rights leader and public servant.

Lewis, who has become known as the conscience of the U.S. Congress, will be awarded $100,000 prize by Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at a luncheon on April 4.

“John Lewis put his life on the line for many years during the 1960s to bring about equality under the law for all Americans,” said Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson in a release. “His unflinching civil rights leadership and ongoing advocacy for social change throughout his career have elevated the causes of human rights around the world. It is our privilege to honor the life and work of Congressman Lewis through the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage.”

John Lewis

John Lewis

Lewis gained international fame at the age of 25 when he called on President Lyndon Johnson for federal intervention following a brutal attack on peaceful protesters by law enforcement near Selma, Ala. Lewis’ appeal on that “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, turned public opinion against those trying to maintain the old social order of the South and moved President Johnson two days later to present to Congress what would become the Voting Rights Act.

“Congressman Lewis is one among us who has had the discipline and tenacity to stand tall, even in the face of physical danger, he continues the struggle to change the world and make it a better place,” said Jacqueline J. Royster, dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. “His courage in the non-violent movement for civil rights and his ongoing work to build communities of trust provide both a watermark and a signpost in the quest for human rights and human dignity in our world.”

Lewis was one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He is the last surviving keynote speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, of which he was a core architect. Lewis’ impact on civil rights for African-Americans included advocating desegregation laws and voters’ rights. A founding member and president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis planned and led many of their activities. His personal courage was first evident when he led student sit-ins that resulted in the public accommodation of African-Americans at Nashville restaurants. He was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders who challenged legally sanctioned segregation on interstate buses. Despite repeated attacks on his dignity, physical beatings and arrests, Lewis remained staunchly committed to nonviolent work for social change.

Lewis was elected a U.S. Congressman from Georgia in 1986 and represents the state’s Fifth Congressional District including Atlanta and parts of four surrounding counties. He has remained an outspoken advocate for domestic and international social and human rights issues. As recently as 2009, he was arrested at the embassy of Sudan, where he was protesting the obstruction of aid to refugees in Darfur.

This is the third time that the prestigious Ivan Allen Jr. Prize has been awarded. The first prize was awarded to former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn in 2011; and the second prize was awarded to William Foege, an international leader in public health who helped in the eradication of smallpox.

The Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage recognizes individuals such as Lewis who, by standing up for clear moral principles in the social arena, have positively affected public discourse at the risk of their own careers, livelihoods and even their lives.

The Prize is endowed in perpetuity by the Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation.

Please click here for more information on the Allen Prize.

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