Local civil rights activist remembers Rep. John Lewis: 'The impact of who he was lives on.'

Posted at 4:34 PM, Jul 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-30 18:47:46-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — While everyone may not have been able to attend the funeral for Representative John Lewis in Atlanta, many in Nashville are still honoring the civil rights icon by remembering his legacy.

"You can bury a man's body, but the impact of who he was lives on," civil rights activist and friend Kwame Lillard told NewsChannel 5.

Lillard worked closely with Lewis in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Nashville, a city that played a pivotal role during the civil rights movement. The 80-year-old Bordeaux resident couldn't attend the funeral due to health reasons, but he spent part of the morning in an empty parking lot in the 1900 block of Jefferson Street. Adjacent from him is a plaque commemorating the Nashville Student Movement Office, a house that became the headquarters for student activists such as Lewis.

"It served as a recruiting center, a training a center and somewhere to depart for over 300 people who came through Nashville to join the Freedom Rides," Lillard said.

The city helped solidify the student movement and civil disobedience with the lunch counter sit-ins. Leading the charge was Lewis who had his first arrest after the sit-in at Woolworth in downtown. His fight for equality would also lead him to the march in Selma and eventually the U.S. Congress where he maintained his seat for decades before he died about two weeks ago from pancreatic cancer.

His determination and peaceful protest would become the blueprint for many generations who have rebuked any racial injustice. Lillard said the best way to pay homage is to continue his legacy, which he believes is happening already.

"We're still listening to you, John," Lillard said. "There are young people like John Lewis all over the world now. You look at the other events happening around our country, maybe it was a good time to pass that torch."

Continuing the legacy of Lewis could be felt this week when Fisk University announced that it would rename its social justice institution after Lewis. While he was a student there, he came to Nashville from Troy, Alabama to attend American Baptist College in 1957.