Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., receives the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Elie Wiesel Award for his extraordinary moral and physical courage during the Civil Rights movement and for his lifelong commitment to promoting the human dignity of all people. (Photo Courtesy U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)
United States Rep. John Lewis, the last “Big Six” leader of the Civil Rights Movement left standing, was honored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum during its National Tribute Dinner at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington D.C. on May 4.
The Museum conferred the 2016 Elie Wiesel Award, its highest honor, on the Georgia Democrat, citing “his extraordinary moral and physical courage during those defining moments and his lifelong commitment to promoting the human dignity of all people.”
“At a pivotal moment in our history, Representative Lewis took great personal risks to help our society reaffirm its commitment to freedom and justice for all,” said Museum Chairman Tom A. Bernstein. “Like our previous honorees, he is an inspiration to people of conscience the world over.”
As a university student and leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis led others in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, Black voter registration drives and Freedom Rides. He also helped spearhead a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement, the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that resulted in the brutal confrontation that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Lewis often put his life on the line, enduring numerous beatings and stints in jail. The son of rural sharecroppers has since served three decades in the Congress, where he is a venerated moral authority.
In accepting his medal, Lewis recalled growing up in rural Alabama and asking his parents about the “Whites Only” and “Colored Only” signs he saw on public accommodations and being admonished to accept things as they were and to stay out of trouble.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., speaks during the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Elie Wiesel Award Ceremony. (Photo Courtesy U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)
“But I got in trouble,” he said of his activism. “It was good trouble. It was necessary trouble.”
Lewis said such fearless activism remains necessary given the modern-day “forces of hate” seeking to foster division in America.
“We all must continue to get in trouble,” he added.
The Museum award was named after Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and activist whose memoir, “Night” is considered a seminal chronicle on the horrors of the Holocaust.
The award was presented, among others, by Susannah Heschel, chair of the Jewish Studies program at Dartmouth College. Heschel’s father, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, worked closely and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement.