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DeKalb district remembers John Lewis through namesake school

Congressman John Lewis celebrates the opening of the John Lewis Elementary School building in Atlanta on Oct. 4, 2019. (Photo courtesy DeKalb County School District)
Congressman John Lewis celebrates the opening of the John Lewis Elementary School building in Atlanta on Oct. 4, 2019. (Photo courtesy DeKalb County School District)

When the DeKalb County Board of Education voted in August 2016 to name a school after U.S. Rep. John Lewis, it did so without following some of its own rules.

Among the district’s rules for naming a school after someone is one that stipulates the person be deceased at least five years. At the time, Lewis was very much alive.

The school was temporarily housed on North Druid Hills Road in Atlanta until a new building was completed in 2019.

“He’s just such a phenomenal person,” board member Joyce Morley said Tuesday. “His contributions to society as a whole, to humanity, justice, freedom, the rights of all people. He’s a legend. The fight that he gave and his longevity and standing for what’s right, what’s just and what’s fair. When you have someone like that, there’s no way we wouldn’t name a school after him.

“That was just in October, when we dedicated the school. We did not know what this year would hold.”

Lewis, who died Friday at age 80 from late-stage pancreatic cancer, was known to break a few rules in his day. In June 2016, he participated in a sit-in on the House floor seeking a discussion and vote on gun control legislation. The longtime civil rights activist and congressman said at the time he was doing what was right.

ExploreJohn Lewis, 1940-2020

“Sometimes you have to violate a rule of law to uphold a greater law, a moral law. We have a right to stand up, to speak up, to speak out. We have a right to sit down, or to sit-in, to engage in nonviolent protest. It is always right to do right,” Lewis told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in 2016.

After Lewis’ death, the district posted about its schoolhouse namesake, remembering him for his courage and integrity. It celebrated the official opening of John Lewis Elementary School last October.

“It’s a great honor that DeKalb County School District had the first John R. Lewis Elementary,” Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said. “Congressman Lewis is a great example of what it means to not only be a champion for children, but a longstanding champion for human and civil rights.”

The school’s building, at 2630 Skyland Dr. NE in Brookhaven, is a state-of-the-art structure using collaborative learning spaces, a courtyard and amphitheater. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 4, 2019, Lewis greeted and took pictures with students, staff and residents in attendance.

“I feel blessed. More than lucky. Blessed,” he said. “These children are so gifted. So beautiful and so smart. One day, these young people will help save America.”