John Lewis left footprints across metro Atlanta

Civil rights icon John Lewis first moved to Atlanta in 1963 when he assumed the chairmanship of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. By then, the Alabama native was already nationally famous for his civil rights activities in Nashville, during which time he worked with the Nashville Student Movement and became a Freedom Rider.

But it would be in Atlanta that Lewis would leave his largest footprints – as a private citizen, a local politician, a representative in Congress, and above all, a rabble-rouser.

Here are some of the places in Atlanta where Lewis has made his mark, and where the city has thanked him in return.

Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee national office (6 and 8 ½ Raymond Street NW, now demolished): Lewis was chairman of SNCC from 1963-66. During those years, he was known as one of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders. He spoke at the 1963 March on Washington and was one of the leaders of the 1964 Freedom Summer activities in Mississippi. SNCC, which previously had offices at numerous Auburn Avenue addresses, moved to Nelson Street in 1966, the same year that Stokely Carmichael replaced Lewis as chairman.

Southern Regional Council office (5 Forsyth Street NW): After working for the Field Foundation in New York City, Lewis moved back to Atlanta in 1967 to become the director of the SRC’s Community Organization Project, which helped create cooperatives and credit unions across the South. He also directed the SRC’s Voter Education Project from 1970-77, which during that time added almost 4 million new voters through its registration programs.

John Lewis won an at-large seat on the Atlanta City Council in 1981 and served until 1986. He's seen here outside City Hall in 1982. (Floyd Edwin Jillson / AJC file)

Credit: Floyd Edwin Jillson

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Credit: Floyd Edwin Jillson

Atlanta City Hall (55 Trinity Ave SW): In his first elected office, Lewis served as an at-large councilman from 1982-1986. He was a proponent for transparency measures and neighborhood control, and was sometimes at odds with Council President Marvin Arrington and Mayor Andrew Young.

Ga. 400 expansion: In 1986, his last year as an Atlanta City Councilman, Lewis was a key swing vote in the council’s decision to expand Ga. 400 from I-285 through Buckhead to I-85.

Rep. John Lewis shows off some memorabilia in his Atlanta office in the Equitable Building, in 1994. (Kimberly Smith / AJC Archive at GSU Library AJCP452-146f) 

Credit: Kimberly Smith

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Credit: Kimberly Smith

Rep. Lewis’ Atlanta office (The Equitable Building at 100 Peachtree Street NW): Lewis was elected as the U.S. Congressional Representative for Georgia’s 5th District in 1986 and served in that role until his death. Nicknamed “the conscience of Congress,” Lewis has served on the Public Works Committee and on the Ways and Means Committee, where he has also acted as chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight.

While on the Atlanta City Council, John Lewis was a key swing vote in allowing Ga. 400 to expand through Buckhead to I-85. As a congressman, Lewis also secured federal funding for the expansion of the MARTA Red Line to North Springs. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

MARTA Red Line expansion: Lewis was instrumental in securing federal funds for the northern expansion of today’s Red Line to North Springs.

MLK National Historic Site: Lewis secured federal funding for the renovation of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and in 2017, upgraded federal protections for the site by having it declared a national historic park.

Tributes to John Lewis

International Civil Rights Walk of Fame footprints (450 Auburn Ave. NE): Lewis’s literal footprints are included in the display at the National Park Service’s Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The honor was created by Xernona Clayton in 2004 and includes such notable leaders as Maya Angelou, Hank Aaron and Bill Clinton.

“The Bridge,” by Thornton Dial, is a 42-foot-long sculptural work that honors the civil rights activism of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, as well as the neighborhood activism of the Freedom Park Conservancy, a group that successfully stopped a throughway from dividing their neighborhood. (CONTRIBUTED BY STEPHEN PITKIN)

Credit: Stephen Pitkin/Souls Grown Deep

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Credit: Stephen Pitkin/Souls Grown Deep

“The Bridge” sculpture (Freedom Park at Ponce de Leon Avenue): The City of Atlanta dedicated the Thornton Dial sculpture in 2005. The artwork depicts Lewis’s march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

John Lewis was honored with the 2012 dedication of the colossal "HERO" mural in downtown Atlanta. The 65-foot tall painting by Sean Schwab, at the corner of Jesse Hill Jr. Drive and Auburn Avenue, made Lewis' face part of the city's skyline. (Jason Getz / AJC file)

Credit: Jason Getz

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Credit: Jason Getz

“HERO” mural (219 Auburn Ave. NE): The 65-foot-mural by Sean Schwab was dedicated in 2012 with John Lewis in attendance. AJC readers voted it the best mural in Atlanta in 2019.

On the outside of a full-size replica of a Freedom Rider bus is a police mugshot of Congressman John Lewis, who was arrested many times during protests of the 1960s. The Freedom Rider exhibit is part of the civil rights gallery at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. (DAVID TULIS / AJC Special)

Credit: David Tulis

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Credit: David Tulis

Freedom Rider bus exhibit (National Center for Civil and Human Rights): Since its 2014 opening, the museum has featured a life-sized recreation of a Freedom Bus covered with the mugshots of Freedom Riders. Lewis’ mugshot, taken from his 1961 arrest in Jackson, Miss., is prominently included at eye-level and shows him smiling wryly into the camera.

The "John Lewis-Good Trouble" tribute wall is in the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s domestic terminal atrium area. It includes historical artifacts, audio and visual installations and tributes to  Lewis. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer

“Good Trouble” art exhibit (Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport): This wall of art in the airport’s domestic terminal atrium, includes artifacts, photos and video from Lewis’ years in the civil rights movement. It was dedicated in 2018.

Families walk around to the different tents during the Family Fun Day at John Lewis Invictus Academy in July 2021. (Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

John Lewis Invictus Academy: Atlanta Public Schools opened this Grove Park middle school in 2017 to replace the former Harper-Archer Middle School. In doing so, at the time, APS waived its rule not to name any buildings after anyone living. The “Invictus” part of the school’s name refers to Lewis’ favorite poem.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms celebrate together after Freedom Parkway was renamed “John Lewis Freedom Parkway” during a dedication ceremony and sign unveiling in 2018. (BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM)

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

John Lewis Freedom Parkway: The City of Atlanta renamed Freedom Parkway as “John Lewis Freedom Parkway” in a 2018 ceremony led by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

A gigantic Image of the late Congressman John Lewis, by artist Stan Herd, is visible in Freedom Park near the intersection of Moreland and North avenues on Jan. 15, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Earthwork portrait in Freedom Park: Artist Stan Herd created a temporary earthwork portrait of Lewis in Freedom Park in early 2021. The gigantic artwork, made of natural materials like grass and mulch, was built near the intersection of North Avenue and Moreland Avenue. The artwork faded away after a few months, as intended.

Volunteers Dan Keim, left, and Cathy Scott plant a tree as part of a three-day effort to create a living tree tribute to memorialize the late Congressman John Lewis in Freedom Park in February 2021. (Photo: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

John Lewis Freedom Parkway plantings: In February 2021, volunteers began planting 300 trees in John Lewis Freedom Parkway as a “living tree tribute” to Lewis. The effort was a partnership between The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Freedom Park Conservancy and Trees Atlanta.

Councilmembers, Mayor Keisha Bottoms, former mayor Andrew Young, and others pose with the new John Lewis statue at Rodney Cook, Sr. Park in Vine City in Atlanta, GA., on Wednesday, June 7, 2021. (Photo/ Jenn Finch for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Jenn Finch

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Credit: Jenn Finch

John Lewis statue at Rodney Cook Park: In June 2021, Mayor Bottoms and Andrew Young celebrated the installation of a statue to Lewis in the newly opened 16-acre park in Vine City. Other bronze statues of local civil rights leaders are planned for the park, which is not yet open to the public.

The study of the John Lewis statue by Basil Watson that will be placed  Decatur Square.

Credit: Courtesy Basil Watson

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Credit: Courtesy Basil Watson

John Lewis statue at Decatur Square: In late 2022, the John Lewis Commemorative Task Force announced that a statue of Lewis would be erected in the heart of the town square, where a monument to Confederate soldiers had stood for more than 100 years. The new statue of Lewis, expected to be unveiled in 2024, will be sculpted by Basil Watson. An early study of the 12-foot statue shows Lewis holding his hands over his heart. The statue will stand in front of the Historic DeKalb Courthouse, where the Confederate Obelisk was removed in 2020. Decatur was part of Lewis’ Congressional district.

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