Emory University establishes John Lewis Chair for Civil Rights and Social Justice

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with photos by Kelly Jordan.

By David Pendered

The John Lewis Chair for Civil Rights and Social Justice, at Emory University, has been fully funded through $2 million in gifts and pledges. Emory is to conduct a national search for an academician to fill the seat.

Emory John Lewis chair

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (right) and Emory Law School Professor Fred Smith discussed the role public participation in civic issues during the 100th anniversary event for the law school. Credit: news.emory.edu

Robert Schapiro, dean of Emory’s law school and Asa Griggs Candler professor of law, said in a statement the John Lewis chair will delve into remaining areas of discrimination. The topics remain a priority of U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)

For example, Lewis on Wednesday released a petition opposing President Trump’s decision to give the go-ahead to the Keystone Pipeline, which has been opposed by Native Americans who say it comes too close to culturally sensitive sites. Trump cited 28,000 construction jobs related to the pipeline. Lewis portrayed that number as incomplete, saying the completed pipeline will employ 35 individuals. His email observes:

  • “John Lewis believes the American people deserve clean air and good jobs. And this pipeline can’t provide either.”

Schapiro said the John Lewis chair will focus on areas where:

john lewis, women's march

U.S. Rep. John Lewis lent his support to the Women’s March in Atlanta following the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Credit: Kelly Jordan

  • “[R]acial discrimination persists despite legal advances made during the civil rights movement of the last century. Among other questions, the chair will examine issues surrounding the restriction of voting rights, racial dimensions of mass incarceration in the United States and the treatment of undocumented immigrants.”

The effort to fund the John Lewis chair started in 2015, when Emory’s law school received an anonymous $1.5 million donation to fund the position. The law school committed to raise an additional $500,000 and met the goal in early 2017, according to Emory’s statement.

Schapiro announced the new chair at a March 22 event in Washington. The event celebrated the centennial of the Emory University School of Law. The event was held at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Lewis is a recipient of Emory’s honorary doctor of laws degree. Lewis spoke on social justice and the rule of law in remarks Emory described as, “offering some context for Emory Law’s role in human and civil rights as the school marks its 100th year. Lewis plainly told listeners to “get in trouble – good trouble.”

During the event, Fred Smith, a constitutional law scholar who recently accepted a permanent position at Emory Law, asked Lewis to expound on the theme of good trouble.

john lewis, st patrick's day parade

U.S. Rep. John Lewis waves to well-wishers while participating in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Atlanta. Credit: Kelly Jordan

“Do you have recommendations or suggestions to those of us who are willing to get into a little bit of trouble?,” Smith said.

Lewis responded that there is a moral obligation to act when something is not right. “To speak up,” he said. “To speak out, to be bold.”

Schapiro said Emory’s law school is responding by expanding its role in evaluating the nation’s present and future legal concerns:

  • “How do we provide high-quality and affordable healthcare? How do we stimulate economic development and job growth through innovation? How do we promote real security in the U.S. and around the world?”

In his remarks during the event, Lewis said:

  • “As long as there is an America — and I think we’re going to be around for a while — this museum will tell the story and the struggle and the history of a people who never gave up and never gave in; they kept dreaming.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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