Civil rights pioneer to speak at NCCU commencement

Posted April 13, 2011 6:25 p.m. EDT

— U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a pioneer in the civil rights movement, will deliver the undergraduate commencement address at North Carolina Central University on May 14, officials said.

Lewis will be awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree by N.C. Central Chancellor Charlie Nelms during the graduation ceremony in O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium. The school expects to confer about 590 degrees at the undergraduate ceremony.

Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights and securing civil liberties. As a student at Fisk University, he organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tenn. In 1961, he participated in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Despite being beaten by angry mobs and arrested by police, Lewis continued to fight against the injustice of Jim Crow legislation.

In 1963, he was named chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the organization that shaped student activism in the civil rights movement, including voter registration drives and community action programs. He was an organizer and speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963, and he participated in the "Bloody Sunday" march in 1965, when Alabama state troopers attacked protesters outside of Selma. Ala.

President Barack Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, last year.

Lewis now represents Georgia’s 5th Congressional District. He was first elected to Congress in 1986.