The National Constitution Center will honor U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, with its 2016 Liberty Medal.
“If there are civil rights icons in America, John Lewis is at the top of the list,” said Jeffrey Rosen, president of the center, in announcing the selection Thursday.
“He is the last survivor of the so-called ‘Big Six,’ who were the civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr., who transformed the meaning of equality in America,” Rosen said. “It is just extraordinary to have this living embodiment of constitutional equality, and we can’t think of a more deserving recipient.”
Lewis spoke at the March on Washington and helped lead the march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.
“We came to the highest point on the Edmund Pettis Bridge. Down below, we saw a sea of blue — Alabama state troopers,” Lewis said in recalling that latter experience with WHYY’s Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” in 2009. “They came toward us beating us with bull whips, night sticks, and releasing the tear gas. I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a night stick. I thought I saw death. I thought I was going to die.”
The annual award honors men and women who promote liberty worldwide.
“It’s hard to think of anyone who has done that from a constitutional perspective more than Rep. Lewis in terms of his leadership in the civil rights movement,” Rosen said.
Lewis went on to represent Georgia in Congress, a position he has held now for nearly three decades. He’ll receive the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia Sept. 19.