Freedom Summer of '64 Award

U.S. Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis of Georgia, a young leader in the 1964 Freedom Summer voter registration of black residents in the segregated South, has received the inaugural Freedom Summer of ’64 Award from Miami University.

Representative John Lewis proudly displays his award.

In 1964, John Lewis, the chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), encouraged college students around the U.S. to help register African Americans in Mississippi to vote. Nearly 800 of those students trained for that work and for nonviolent resistance, in Oxford, Ohio, on the campus of then-Western College for Women (now part of Miami University.) 

Lewis began his civil rights activism with the 1961 Freedom Rides, challenging segregated interstate bus terminals across the South. Though peacefully protesting, he was beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police. From 1963 to 1966, Lewis was chairman of SNCC, which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for organizing civic student activism, including sit-ins and other activities.

Before working in more formal voting rights agencies, Lewis endured 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries in his justice-seeking endeavors. He was a co-leader, on March 7, 1965, of more than 600 peaceful, orderly protestors marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, intending to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as "Bloody Sunday."

Lewis was active in numerous other civil rights efforts and activities over the years. He was elected to the Atlanta City Council in 1981 and elected to Congress in 1986, serving as U.S. Representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District since then.

Miami University presented the Freedom Summer of '64 Award to Lewis in a ceremony March 19, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Students, alumni and guests recognized Rep. Lewis for his lifetime of civil rights accomplishments.

The presentation and acceptance speech follow:

“This award honors the legacy of the civil rights movement, but is also a new call for students, faculty, staff and citizens to reconnect with civic service and civil rights at a time when participation, and standing for one’s belief in their fellow humans is more important than ever,” said Gregory Crawford, president of Miami University.

“It is important to keep the Freedom Summer spirit alive, to make known its history and to demonstrate that it still matches our values,” said Ron Scott, associate vice president for diversity and inclusion at Miami. “Presenting this award is a public way to reflect on the best and show the path to others.”

For more information on Freedom Summer and Miami's commemoration of this historic event, see Celebrating Freedom.