Lewis, who has been referred to as "one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced," has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties and improving America’s communities.
“Congressman Lewis is a model of professional and personal excellence for us all,” said Kathy Barbour, APR, 2015 PRSA National Chair. “His willingness to stand up for what is right, both in the continuous fight for equality and in Congress, shows his dedication to his country and his fellow citizens. I cannot think of a more appropriate person to welcome the Society to Atlanta and I eagerly await the opportunity to hear his inspirational words.”
Congressman Lewis has spent his time in office strictly adhering to ethical standards and moral principles, which has earned him the respect of colleagues regardless of political affiliation.
A Relentless Advocate for Human Rights
Lewis, who was born to sharecroppers in Alabama, grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated schools, was inspired to partake in the Civil Rights Movement after finding inspiration through events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
While attending Fisk University, Lewis organized and participated in several events as a part of the Movement, including sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville and participating in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Throughout this time he was the victim of violence by angry mobs and arrested by police for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation in the South.
In the early 1960s, Lewis was named Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) which he helped form. At the age of 23, he was an architect of, and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington.
In 1965, Lewis (along with Hosea Williams, another notable Civil Rights leader) led more than 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, with the intention of marching to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as "Bloody Sunday." News broadcasts and photographs from the event helped garner public pressure to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Despite 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, Lewis remained an advocate for nonviolence.
A Shift to Politics
In 1977, Lewis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency, and in 1981, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. While serving on the Council, he was a relentless advocate for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. He was elected to Congress in November 1986 and has served as U.S. Representative of Georgia's 5th Congressional District since then.
He currently serves as Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party in the United States House of Representatives, as a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, a member of its Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, and ranking member of its Subcommittee on Oversight.
Lewis holds a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been awarded over 50 honorary degrees from colleges and universities throughout the United States. Lewis is the recipient of numerous awards from distinguished national and international institutions. He co-authored the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir trilogy MARCH, written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. He is also the author of Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change, written with Brenda Jones.
The 2015 PRSA International Conference will be held at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, November 8 – 10. A full lineup of speakers and registration information can be found at the Conference website. Discounted hotel and travel rates are also available.
About the Public Relations Society of America
PRSA is the largest professional organization serving the U.S. public relations community. With a mission to “advance the profession and the professional,” PRSA provides news and information, thought leadership, continuing education and networking opportunities; sets standards of professional excellence and ethical conduct; and advocates for the business value of public relations and greater diversity among public relations professionals. Based in New York, PRSA comprises 110 local Chapters; 14 Professional Interest Sections that focus on specific industries and practice areas; and the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), which is active at more than 340 colleges and universities.