John Lewis left footprints across metro Atlanta

Credit: Pete Corson

Credit: Pete Corson

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.

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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.

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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.

Credit: Floyd Edwin Jillson

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.

ExploreThe people carrying on the legacy of John Lewis

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.

Credit: Kimberly Smith

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.

Credit: Curtis Compton

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.

Credit: Stephen Pitkin/Souls Grown Deep

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.

Credit: Jason Getz

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.

Credit: David Tulis

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.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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.

Credit: Bob Andres

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.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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.

Credit: Jenn Finch

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.

Credit: Courtesy Basil Watson

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.