Vanderbilt leaders honor Rep. John Lewis and civil rights history of Nashville (VIDEO)

Vanderbilt University joined Nashville community leaders to pay tribute to the life and Nashville legacy of U.S. Rep. John Lewis with the formal dedication of Rep. John Lewis Way and a public celebration at Ryman Auditorium.   

The celebration traced the path of Lewis and many others who were trained for civil disobedience by Rev. James Lawson. Nashville sit-ins are historically referenced as pivotal in the nonviolence movement that initiated the desegregation of Nashville and of the southeastern United States.  

Among the speakers representing Vanderbilt University were:  

  • Samar Ali (steering committee member), research professor of political science and law, co-chair of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy and CEO of Millions of Conversations.  
  • André L. Churchwell, MD, vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer  
  • Daniel Diermeier, chancellor  
  • Michael Eric Dyson, Centennial Chair and University Distinguished Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies in the College of Arts and Science and University Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Society in the Divinity School  
  • Rev. James Lawson, civil rights icon, Nashville sit-in participant and Vanderbilt University Distinguished Professor, emeritus 
  • Jon Meacham, Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Professor of American Presidency, co-chair of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and author of The New York Times bestseller His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope, with an afterword by John Lewis, and 
  • Caroline Randall Williams, Vanderbilt University writer-in-residence, who wrote an original poem, “Chicken Scratch: An Elegy for John Lewis” for the celebration. 

The John Lewis Way dedication was led by Committee Chair Zulfat Suara, Nashville Metro Council member at-large. Other presenters included former Vice President Al Gore, freedom rider Dr. Katherine Brooks, Nashville Mayor John Cooper, screenplay writer, producer and director Callie Khouri (Nashville, Thelma & Louise),  entertainer Darius Rucker, American Baptist College President Forrest E. Harris Sr., Fisk University President Vann Newkirk Sr. and Tennessee State Sen. Brenda Gilmore. Musical direction for the dedication was led by T Bone Burnett, multi-Grammy-winning record producer and Oscar winner.  

Co-sponsors of the Rep. John Lewis Way dedication included Vanderbilt University, the Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy, Millions of Conversations, Fisk University and American Baptist College.