Remembering Our Brother, Congressman John R. Lewis


Congressman John R. Lewis addresses the graduates, Commencement 2017

With the passing of Congressman John Lewis, our world has lost an extraordinary leader who dedicated his life to freedom, justice and equality for all. He is one of the last great soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement that helped change the lives of Black Americans. For Berea College, we have lost a dear friend and brother who embraced us as kin.

Congressman Lewis visited Berea several times. When Berea College in 2016 was invited by a U.S. House Ways and Means subcommittee to testify on the use of its endowment to support Berea’s no-tuition promise to students, Congressman Lewis was at that hearing and spoke to the Berea delegation afterward, suggesting that it had been some years—1990, in fact—since he had been to Berea College. “I would love to come back. Invite me,” he said.

Congressman John Lewis

Congressman John Lewis, Representative of Georgia’s Fifth District

So invite him the College did, to receive an honorary degree the following year at the 2017 Commencement. In his speech, he imparted his deep wisdom to our graduates about the world that lie before them and their duty to change it for the better. He encouraged all of us to continue to “make good trouble,” for it is the only way to fight for justice, equality and equity. John Lewis was just 25 years old when he marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. He was among the protesters beaten by police, but he was undeterred in his fight for civil rights. He dedicated his life to that fight, making good trouble until his final days.

The Berea College community is deeply saddened by the passing of our brother and honorary alumnus—indeed, our teacher and mentor, Congressman John Lewis. His affection for Berea and its mission and his enduring legacy are stamped on our hearts for all time.

READ AN EXCERPT of Lewis’ interview with Berea College Media Relations Manager Tim Jordan, published in the Summer 2017 edition of the Berea College Magazine.

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Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources—primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia—but welcomes students from 40 states and 70 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly to earn money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.