Congressman John Lewis to be awarded Liberty Medal for constitutional achievement

Congressman John Lewis will receive the Liberty Medal  Monday night at the National Constitution Center. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Congressman John Lewis will receive the Liberty Medal Monday night at the National Constitution Center. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia will award its Liberty Medal to John Lewis, the U.S. congressman from Georgia and one of the architects of the Civil Rights movement 50 years ago.

He was chosen for the honor as a way of marking the approaching 150th anniversary of the 14th Amendment.

The National Constitution Center is in the midst of commemorating the “second founding of America,” a five-year period following the Civil War when the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were passed to guarantee equal rights regardless of race. Those promises did not become reality until a century later with the the Civil Rights movement.

A young John Lewis played a major part in that battle. As one of the “big six” who organized the 1963 March on Washington, Lewis is the last living person to have spoken at that historic rally.

Now 76 years old, he is a long-serving congressman who still has an activist’s heart. Earlier this summer, he staged a sit-in at the Capitol to support gun-control measures.

Constitution Center president Jeffrey Rosen said the Liberty Medal will recognize Lewis’ constitutional achievement, not his political activities.

“That distinction between politics and constitutional views is one we make in every aspect of what we do at the Constitution Center,” said Rosen. “It’s at the core of our ‘second founding’ initiative. Americans can debate lots of policy issues regarding equality in America, but we can learn about core constitutional values and how they apply today. That’s what we’re going to be doing at the ceremony.”

The Monday evening ceremony will feature speakers including former Gov. Ed Rendell, television news anchor Byron Pitts, and Lewis himself, supported by the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church choir.

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