Nashville dedicates Rep. John Lewis Way with street dedication, march, celebration at historic Ryman Auditorium

On July 17, the first anniversary of the passing of the late John R. Lewis, civil rights leader and Congressman from Georgia, the city of Nashville will formally dedicate Rep. John Lewis Way, the former Fifth Avenue in downtown Nashville and one of the sites of the lunch counter sit-ins by African American students in 1960. Lewis was a Nashville college student, who participated in the sit-ins and, in 1961, represented Nashville students as one of the inaugural Freedom Riders.

Rep. John Lewis Way, the city’s former Fifth Avenue, will be formally dedicated in memory of the late civil rights leader and Georgia congressman in a series of events on Friday, July 16, and on Saturday, July 17, the first anniversary of Lewis’ death.

In late 2020, the Minority Caucus of the Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County City Council and a group of community leaders came forward to sponsor and support a city ordinance to rename Fifth Avenue in memory of Lewis, who passed away at age 80 in 2020.

Dedication ceremonies, originally planned for February, were postponed due to the pandemic. Admission is free to all events.

“This will be a special weekend in the life of our city, coming together as a community to honor Rep. John Lewis and recognize his passion for civil justice and contributions to our nation,” said Zulfat Suara, chair of the Rep. John Lewis Way Committee and an at-large member to the Metro Council. “It is fitting that we will finally be able to dedicate the street, in his memory, on the first anniversary of his passing.”

Lewis began his lifelong crusade for civil rights and civic justice in Nashville while a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary and Fisk University. In 1960, he was a leader in the historic lunch counter sit-ins, some of which occurred on Fifth Avenue North, that lead to Nashville becoming the first Southern city to start the desegregation of public places.

In 1961, Lewis represented the Nashville group of the burgeoning civil rights movement as one of the 13 original ‘Freedom Riders.’

The weekend of celebration begins at 6 pm on Friday, July 16, with a memorial service at the First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, 635 Rosa Parks Blvd. It will feature remarks by Fisk University President Vann Newkirk, Sr., and Forrest E. Harris, president of American Baptist College (formerly American Baptist Theological Seminary), Michael Cristal (international president of Phi Beta Sigma), along with musical performances by members of the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

The former Fifth Avenue in downtown Nashville will be formally dedicated as Rep. John Lewis Way in a ceremony at 9 am on Saturday, July 17, at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Rep. John Lewis Way in the city’s Germantown community. The short unveiling ceremony will include remarks from Nashville Mayor John Cooper and Council member Suara.

The unveiling ceremony will be followed immediately by a one-mile commemorative march through downtown to the historic Ryman Auditorium, 116 Rep. John Lewis Way North.

At 11 am, a celebration will be held at the Ryman, including remarks by Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who recently wrote the book, His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope, among others to be announced. Also scheduled to perform are singer-songwriters Ruby Amanfu and Matt Maher, along with Leigh Nash, lead singer for the band Sixpence None the Richer.

Tickets for the Ryman celebration are available through Ticketmaster, and while tickets are free, all attendees must have a ticket for admission. There is a maximum of four tickets per person.

The dedication events are produced by the Rep. John Lewis Way Committee, which includes Suara, State Sen. Brenda Gilmore, Metro Nashville Property Assessor Vivian Wilhoite, Metro Nashville Deputy Mayor Brenda Haywood, Greg Bailey, Susan Allen Huggins, Rita McDonald, Sam Reed, Marie Suing, Tom Turner, Tim Walker, Phyllis Qualls Brooks, Eric Brown, Crissy Cassetty, Emmanuel Rowe and Samar Ali.

More information is available at <www.johnlewisway.org>.

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