CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Civil rights leader and longtime U.S. Congressman John Lewis will address graduates of Elms College this coming spring. Lewis has been selected as the keynote speaker for the college’s May 16 commencement at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
Rep. Lewis maintains a special connection to the Sisters of St. Joseph, the religious order that runs the Chicopee college. Back in 1965, he was one of the leaders of a protest march that was supposed to run from Selma, Alabama to the state capital at Montgomery. Lewis and hundreds of other marchers did not get very far before they were intercepted by a group of Alabama state troopers and local police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, who severely beat them. Lewis was treated by Sisters of St. Joseph at Good Samaritan Hospital, one of the only hospitals in that part of Alabama that treated African-American patients.
He has spoken in the past at SSJ events in other parts of the country to express his gratitude to the sisters.
Lewis played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement, being among the original “Freedom Riders” who traveled by bus through the South to protest segregation. Later, he was the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the most important groups involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He is also the only of the speakers during Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington that remains alive.
A Democrat, Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986, and serves the Atlanta-based 5th Congressional District of Georgia.