A new foundation has been launched to honor the legacy and continue the work of civil rights icon and legislator John Lewis. ABC News reports that the John and Lillian Miles Lewis Foundation announced its launch on Monday, which would have been the late congressman’s 82nd birthday. The foundation is named after Congressman Lewis, who died in 2020, and his wife Lillian, who passed away in 2012. The couple’s son, John-Miles Lewis, said that the new foundation launched in his parents’ name will be dedicated to “realizing the Lewises’ dream that the power of individuals can reimagine and build a better society.”
The foundation builds on the accomplishments of the Lewis couple.
According to the foundation’s website, the organization was initially created in 2018 when Rep. Lewis asked several friends to dedicate their time and resources to continuing his legacy. The foundation continued its work after Lewis died. The foundation’s leadership sees its public debut now as timely, given how “this year has forced an overdue reckoning with U.S. racial history and democratic principles.”
Lewis, who died in 2020, played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement as a leader within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He suffered attacks and intimidation many times, including during the 1961 Freedom Rides and most famously on Bloody Sunday in 1965 when Selma police savagely beat him during the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
In 1967, Lewis met his future wife, Lillian Miles. She was a graduate of California State College and the University of Southern California who had spent time living in Nigeria as a student and later as a Peace Corps volunteer. Lewis later became a long-serving congressman from Georgia, with Lilian encouraging and assisting his political career. While in office, Congressman Lewis was a fierce advocate for voting rights and other freedoms.
The foundation seeks to continue the Lewis legacy for a new generation.
The John and Lillian Miles Lewis Foundation is the latest addition to the couple’s far-reaching legacy. Lilian was a high ranking official at Clark Atlanta University and was instrumental in establishing important academic programs there. Congressman Lewis continues to inspire a new generation of political leaders including Rep. Nikema Williams, who now holds the congressional seat formerly held by Lewis, and Sen. Jon Ossoff, who once worked as an intern for Congressman Lewis.
Another key piece of Lewis’s legacy is that the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is a major piece of voting rights legislation that has been debated over the past year. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson was moved to support the Voting Rights Act after witnessing Lewis and others being attacked, and the bill that bears Lewis’ name would restore parts of that law that were nullified by a 2013 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for voter suppression across the country.
The John and Lillian Miles Lewis Foundation is dedicated to continuing the fight for voting rights and other freedoms. Lewis famously told those seeking to follow in his footsteps that they should “never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” The new foundation encourages those inspired by his life to share stories of their own activism using the #GoodTroublemakers hashtag. Among those answering the call to keep up the “good trouble” is Linda Earley Chastang, former chief of staff to Congressman Lewis, who is now serving as president of CEO of the foundation.
The foundation will officially hold a celebration on May 17 in Washington, D.C., to mark its opening. The Hill reports that foundation representatives describe the upcoming event as “a collective moment of reflection on the life and legacy of the civil rights icon John Lewis and also celebrate the Lewises’ vision and values.” Meanwhile, individuals hoping to support the foundation’s work promoting voting rights, civic engagement and more, can support the organization by connecting here.