A gentle breeze blew a cascade of autumn leaves through the air just as Rep. John Lewis’ nephew talked about the importance of “good trouble.”
On a day where hundreds gathered in the legendary civil rights icon’s home county to celebrate the naming of an academic building in his honor, it was as if the man Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously called “The Boy from Troy” was making his presence known.
Troy University officially dedicated John Robert Lewis Hall in a ceremony Friday morning that included two of Lewis’ fellow congressional leaders, members of his family and stirring musical performances.
“To see this happen in his hometown of Troy, in a city where he was once denied his basic right to education, he would have been overcome with pride and gratefulness,” said Jerrick Lewis. “My uncle would have been proud to have his name displayed on this building, and he would’ve been proud of this university for showing the world what it truly stands for: unity and equality over hatred.”
Troy University’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously in August to rename Bibb Graves Hall after the congressman, who died in July at age 80.
“It is the right thing to do to name this building for a great man,” said TROY Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. “I am proud of our Board for making that decision. On July 25, we honored John Lewis for a day. Today, we honor him for an eternity.”
The university honored Lewis with a memorial service July 25, but this week marked a chance to cement his legacy at a university with a special connection to him.
In 1957, Lewis was denied admission to Troy State College. More than three decades later, TROY awarded him an honorary doctorate, and today, one of that same university’s central academic buildings bears his name.
“On behalf of the family, I’d like to thank Dr. Hawkins and Troy University for being the perfect example of change and progress,” said Ron Lewis, another of Lewis’ nephews.
Rep. Martha Roby and Rep. Terri Sewell also spoke at the ceremony, praising their longtime colleague for his bravery and commitment to service.
“He was known as the conscience of Congress,” Roby said. “He was a true American patriot. We had the great privilege of serving with John.”
Sewell said the event marked a key moment for the region and the state.
“No one represents the resilient spirit of the state of Alabama, the city of Troy and Troy University like the ‘Boy from Troy’,” she said.
Trustee Lamar P. Higgins said the building represents a man who paved the way for others.
“If it weren’t for John Lewis, Lamar Higgins wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “If it weren’t for John Lewis, a lot of great things about this country would not have happened. We’re grateful for all that he has done.”
Board of Trustees President Pro-Tem Gibson Vance said he hopes TROY students learn from Lewis’ example in the years and decades to come.
“We hope they’ll be inspired by this man to go out into the world and make it a better place,” Vance said.
A photo gallery can be found here.