Rep. John Lewis, a life-long champion of civil rights, will receive the National Constitution Center’s 2016 Liberty Medal in recognition of his leadership in and dedication to the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1961, Lewis, then chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was named one of the "Big Six" leaders, alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young, who were organizing the March on Washington.
Lewis, now 76, is the only surviving "Big Six" leader. He was also one of the early Freedom Riders, a group of activists who rode buses into segregated areas.
Lewis was the first Freedom Rider to be assaulted. In Rock Hill, North Carolina, the future senator entered a whites-only waiting room where two men beat him.
In 1965, with fellow civil rights leader Hosea Williams, Lewis led the famous “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
There, 600 activists joined Lewis and Williams to cross the Alabama River into Montgomery.
State troopers and police officers blocked their path, ordering protesters to turn around. When they refused, officials beat their way through the crowd with batons and tear gas, hospitalizing more than 50 people.
Lewis was elected to the Atlantic City Council in 1981, and to Congress in 1986. He currently serves as a U.S. Representative of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District.
"Through his heroic leadership on behalf of civil rights and the Constitution, Rep. Lewis has helped to extend the blessings of liberty and equality to all Americans," said President and CEO of the National Constitution Center Jeffrey Rosen. "Under his leadership, the Civil Rights Movement helped this nation move toward the creation of the 'more perfect union' promised by President Lincoln at Gettysburg."
"As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees the equal protection of the laws, the National Constitution Center is thrilled to honor Rep. Lewis with the 2016 Liberty Medal,” Rosen added.
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"Representative Lewis is an inspiration to people all over the world," said Mayor Jim Kenney. "On behalf of the City of Philadelphia, I am thrilled to welcome him back to our city and to help showcase his achievements with the Liberty Medal."
Lewis will receive the medal at the 28th Annual Liberty Medal Ceremony on Monday, Sept. 19.
The medal, established in 1988, is given annually to those work to ensure and secure liberty to people around the world. According to the National Constitution Center, seven Liberty Medal recipients have subsequently won the Nobel Peace Prize. Past recipients of the medal include Hillary Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Mikhail Gorbachev and Thurgood Marshall.