John Lewis has accomplished a great deal since he was a Freedom Rider and major leader in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Now a Democratic congressman representing Georgia, Lewis saw the literal signs of segregation while growing up — including those that said “whites only” and “coloreds only” — and asked his family members why there was a separation. They told him to leave it alone; not to get into trouble.
But Lewis told 281 students who graduated from Lawrence University on Sunday to “find a way to get in the way.”
Lewis, who delivered the commencement address, is the last living member of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders — which included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis is also the last living of the 10 speakers of the March on Washington, where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Regardless of ethnicity or sexual orientation, Lewis told a crowd of roughly 2,800 on the Main Hall green, “We are one people, we are one family, we are one house. We are brothers and sisters.”
Lewis received an honorary degree, along with Appleton native James Zwerg, who shared interstate bus rides with Lewis in 1961 as they tested federal desegregation laws with “Freedom Rides.”
Zwerg, who graduated from Appleton’s lone public high school in 1958, got involved in civil rights when he had a black roommate at Beloit College and saw how he was mistreated. The roommate also was the first to turn Zwerg on to civil rights, as he detailed King’s teachings, and why he did not respond with violence.
Source: USA Today | Katherine Lymn and Alison Dirr, The (Appleton, Wis.) Post-Crescent