TROY – Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) told Troy University students they were never too young to make a difference.
Georgia's Fifth Congressional District representative since 1986, Lewis is considered one of the "Big Six" leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, alongside Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer and Roy Wilkins.
"I say to young people, to students, 'you are never too young to stand up for something you believe in.' Speak up, speak out and do it without violence," he said.
Congressman Lewis visited the Troy Campus Monday, Feb. 20, to augment the McPherson-Mitchell Lecture Series on Southern History, which in January centered on a lecture by Dr. Raymond O. Arsenault on the Freedom Rides. Congressman Lewis helped organize and took part in those Freedom Rides, and other Civil Rights era protests, including the March on Washington. He also led more than 600 peaceful protesters over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, an incident later known as "Bloody Sunday." The event spurred the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Monday's format was a question-and-answer discussion between Congressman Lewis and TROY history assistant professor Dr. David Carlson, and included questions from students.
"It's important to teach the next generation (about the Civil Rights Struggle) so we don't have to repeat it," he said, noting many ways today's parents could educate their children, including visiting museums such as the University's Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery and the Freedom Riders Museum.
However, Congressman Lewis noted that today's issues aren't confined to civil rights.
"Issues today (in which students can take a stand) are to end hunger and poverty, providing good education and protecting the environment," he said. "It's not just about civil rights, it's broader – it's a human rights fight."
Congressman Lewis also told the assembled faculty, staff and students that much has changed in America since the 1960s.
"The only places where you can see 'white only' or 'black only' signs – or 'white waiting' or 'black waiting' are in museums or in old photographs or in videos," he said. "When people say 'nothing has changed,' I say 'come walk in my shoes and I'll show you change'."