King, Lewis Continue to Inspire

by Libby Thornton

Sixty-six years ago, John Lewis, or the “Boy from Troy” as Martin Luther King Jr. called him, applied to Troy State University. Like many black students at the time, was rejected. Now, students of all races, ethnicities and nationalities bustle about a Troy University building with his name on it. 

While Martin Luther King Jr. inspired his namesake January 16 holiday, the Troy University campus community also recently celebrated other civil rights icons, including Lewis, a local hero.

In November 2020, defied a 2017 state law prohibiting the relocation, removal or renaming of any monument located on public property, which has been in place for 40 years or more. They renamed Bibb Graves Hall, which honored a notorious Ku Klux Klan leader and former Alabama Governor from the 1920s, as rename Bibb Graves Hall, a notorious Ku Klux Klan leader and former Alabama Governor, as John Robert Lewis Hall.

Dr. Timothy Buckner, an associate history and philosophy professor said King gets much of the credit for the civil rights movement, but it was built on the contributions of many people, including ordinary folks.

“[King] was the leader and figurehead, but change can’t happen unless people respond and participate,” Buckner said.

Inspired by the words of King and the activism of people in Montgomery, Lewis quickly rose in the Civil Rights Movement’s ranks. He helped organize King’s famous 1963 March on Washington and serving as the youngest speaker at the event, which attracted as many as 300,000.

Lewis also participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961, challenging the segregated facilities he encountered at southern bus terminals – segregation deemed illegal by the Supreme Court. On March 7, 1965, Alabama state troopers pummeled and gassed Lewis, badly blooding him and hundreds of marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

Lewis even served as a key figure in the federal government as a U.S. Representative for  Georgia’s 5th Congressional district from 1987 until his death in 2020.

Troy students recently said they’re still inspired by the memories of King and Lewis. To recognize them, Troy’s Office of Civic Engagement hosted two days of service.

Jayden McQueen, a freshman majoring in political science from Crestview, Florida, said the Office of Civic Engagement provides opportunities for service to all students, not just members of a certain program or major.

“This is one of the things I love about Troy,” McQueen said, “T­­hey push leadership and service so heavily because they are trying to create willing and devoted leaders.

“They are handing us opportunities to make a difference in our community and become well-rounded individuals.”

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