Wayne State University honored civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis with its Walter P. Reuther Humanitarian Award this week in Washington, D.C., in recognition of Lewis’s decades-long history of political leadership and grassroots advocacy.
The award was presented on Monday by Jon E. Cawthorne, dean of Wayne State’s School of Information Sciences and sprawling University Library System, which includes the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs. A committee of WSU and United Auto Workers representatives nominated Congressman Lewis for his long career in civil rights advocacy and political leadership.
Representing Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, Lewis is serving in his 17th term in the House and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis was one of the “Big Six” leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington and played many key roles in the civil rights movement and its actions to end legalized racial segregation in the United States.
“Your commitment to the very same things that Walter Reuther was dedicated to makes you the ideal recipient of the award that bears his name,” Cawthorne said of Lewis, who was unable to attend the ceremony due to his current battle with cancer. “In 1963, you and Walter Reuther were organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Walter marched with you and, like you, Walter spoke to that huge crowd at the Lincoln Memorial.
“Back then you were united in the fight for civil rights, and after that both of you continued to fight for social justice — he through the UAW, and you through activism both as a citizen and as a policymaker. Today, you are tied together once again as you receive the award named for him that recognizes you for your life’s work.”
Past award recipients include Rosa Parks, Joseph Lowery, John Dingell and Douglas Fraser.
In the spring, the UAW will host activities in the Detroit area to further honor Reuther’s legacy. The Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs will partner on a publication, labor history bus tour, special exhibit and film screening on May 8-9. The Walter and May Reuther Memorial Fund provided a $25,000 grant to support the library’s work on these activities.