Nashville civil rights activist remembers John Lewis, who helped organize Nashville sit-ins

Posted at 5:52 AM, Jul 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-19 12:33:35-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville civil rights activists say they are grieving the death of Rep. John Lewis, who died Friday night at the age of 80.

"It's very, very sad," Gloria McKissack said. McKissack first met Lewis when she was a student at Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State College, which is now Tennessee State University.

"I was in the student union and the Freedom Riders were going around from table to table trying to recruit students to participate to continue the sit-ins," McKissack said. "John was one of those students that was going around recruiting, and I decided that I would like to be a part of that."

McKissack participated in the Nashville sit-ins alongside Lewis. The efforts eventually led to the desegregation of Nashville's lunch counters, and served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement. McKissack said Lewis served as a teacher for her and other demonstrators.

During an interview with NewsChannel 5, she pulled out a photo of her with Lewis and two other protesters shortly after they had been forcibly removed from a restaurant.

"One of the things about John I'll always remember, was he was a role model of what we should do," McKissack said. "I said 'what John does, that's what I do.'"

McKissack said his reputation as a role model continued for the rest of his life, following him as he served in the United States Congress.

"He's my hero, always has been a role model, and I'm sorry that he's gone," she said. "We have a whole era of significant people who are passing away."