Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told the audience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s National Tribute Dinner last week about growing up in rural Alabama and asking his parents why there were “Whites Only” and “Colored Only” signs.
Such questions got him into trouble. “It was good trouble and necessary trouble,” said Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement. “We all must continue to get in trouble.”
Lewis was honored with the museum’s 2016 Elie Wiesel Award. The institution cited his “extraordinary moral and physical courage during those defining moments and his lifelong commitment to promoting the human dignity of all people.”
“Lewis is an inspiration to people of conscience the world over,” museum Chairman Tom Bernstein said at the event, held at the Washington Wardman Park Hotel.
As a university student and leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis led marchers at sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, Freedom Rides and black voter registration drives. He also helped to spearhead a 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which led to a brutal confrontation with authorities in Selma, Ala., as law enforcement officers attacked marchers with billy clubs and tear gas.
“My advice to young people is if you see something like bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, bullying, people not being kind to others — do something about it,” Lewis said. “You cannot afford to be silent. You have to do what you can, what you must, to create a beloved community, a community at peace with itself.”