Allen Prize Awarded to Congressman John Lewis

The Georgia Institute of Technology is honoring civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis with its Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage. The award, which was presented Thursday in Atlanta, is given annually to individuals who, by asserting moral principle, positively affected public discourse at the risk of their careers, livelihoods and, sometimes, even their lives. Thursday marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Congressman John Lewis Awarded Allen Prize 2
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Congressman John Lewis is pictured with President G.P. "Bud" Peterson and Jacqueline J. Royster, dean of the Ivan Allen College for Liberal Arts.

“Congressman Lewis made his mind up to accomplish many things throughout his lifetime, and his accomplishments will transcend generations,” said Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson. “He has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties and building what he calls ‘The Beloved Community’ in America. His unflinching civil rights leadership and ongoing advocacy for social change throughout his career have elevated the cause of human rights around the world.”

Lewis became known around the world at the age of 25 following the “Bloody Sunday” beatings of peaceful protesters in Selma, Alabama, in March of 1965. Lewis called on President Lyndon Johnson for federal intervention, turning public opinion against those trying to maintain the old social order of the South. President Johnson would soon present to Congress what would become the Voting Rights Act.

“I always did what I could do to help other people,” Lewis said at the ceremony while reflecting on his role in the civil rights movement. “I wanted to make a difference in order to meet the pressing need of people left out or left behind. I was inspired to find a way to a ‘new way.’ And this inspires me today, as I continue to keep pushing on.” 

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. 

The day’s events, which included panel discussions and congratulatory messages from Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were hosted by the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. 

“Today’s theme, ‘Building Communities of Trust,’ highlights crucial components of our mission at Georgia Tech to improve the human condition,” said Jacqueline J. Royster, dean of the Ivan Allen College. “If we have learned anything from the technological terrors and triumphs of the last century, it is that human-centered and societally centered concerns must be a foundation for our problem solving, innovation and entrepreneurship.”

The Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage is named after Allen, a former mayor of Atlanta and Georgia Tech graduate. In 1963, Mayor Allen testified before Congress in support of what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, risking his place in society and political future. Prior winners include Sam Nunn and William Foege. The Prize is supported in perpetuity through a commitment by the Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation.

More information on the Allen Prize can be found at the following link: http://ivanallenprize.gatech.edu/home/. Additional information about Allen can be found here: http://ivanallenprize.gatech.edu/ivan-allen-jr/.     

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