Athens, Ga. – John Lewis, a U.S. representative and civil rights activist, will deliver the 2011 Mary Frances Early Lecture on April 19 at 4 p.m. in the University of Georgia Chapel. The 11th annual lecture honors Mary Frances Early, the first African-American to earn a degree from UGA, and her legacy at UGA.
“We are truly honored to have Congressman Lewis speak at this year’s Mary Frances Early Lecture,” said Maureen Grasso, dean of the UGA Graduate School. “His life-long commitment to diversity and achieving equality for all people continues to inspire our work today.”
Lewis first rose to prominence as a civil rights leader in the 1960s. Since then, he has worked in public service at both the state and national level for more than 30 years.
Since 1987, Lewis has represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, an area that includes Atlanta, in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on the Committee on Ways and Means and two of its subcommittees, the Subcommittee on Oversight and the Subcommittee on Human Resources.
Motivated by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Lewis became extensively involved in the civil rights movement during his twenties. In 1963, he was named the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a prominent civil rights organization, and planned lunch sit-ins, non-violent protests, and voter registration drives.
Lewis quickly turned into a national figure when he spoke alongside King at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. He was only 23-years-old at the time.
Two years later in an event deemed “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis led a group of 600 protestors from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. to demonstrate the need for equal voting rights. While crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, state police attacked Lewis and the protesters. Television coverage and images from the violent confrontation helped sway public opinion onto the side of the civil rights activists and advance the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Every year on March 7, Lewis commemorates the march’s anniversary by returning to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
The Mary Frances Early Lecture was established in 2001 by Graduate and Professional Scholars, a minority graduate and professional student organization at UGA. The Graduate School assumed responsibility for the lecture series in 2010, working in partnership with GAPS to institutionalize it as part of UGA campus life.
The annual lecture recognizes Mary Frances Early’s dedication toward making UGA an institution of higher learning for all people. The lecture strives to demonstrate the progress that has been made in achieving her vision and identifies the work that remains to be done.
Mary Frances Early began her graduate study in 1961 in support of the first African-American undergraduates who enrolled at UGA. She graduated a year later with a master’s degree in music education.