Civil rights leader (and Trump critic) Rep. John Lewis tapped as Harvard commencement speaker

Rogelio V. Solis/AP

US Representative John Lewis of Georgia speaking the Friends of Mississippi Civil Rights gala in Jackson, Miss., on Feb. 23.

By Globe Staff 

Representative John Lewis of Georgia, who was belittled by President Trump as “all talk,” will deliver the commencement address at Harvard on May 24.

Lewis, a son of Alabama sharecroppers who rose to prominence during the civil rights era in the 1960s, is the right person at the right time to speak to the graduating class, Drew Faust, Harvard’s president, said in a statement.


“For more than 50 years, John Lewis has dedicated himself to the ideals of equality and decency, standing up for what is right, even when it meant putting himself in harm’s way,” she said. “His public service legacy is unparalleled, and he is an inspiration to me and to countless other people across the United States and around the world.”

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Lewis has said he was inspired to join the civil rights movement by the activism of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio. In 1961, he joined the Freedom Riders in occupying bus seats reserved for whites to protest segregation. He was arrested and beaten many times during the ’60s.

Though denied a library card as a child because of his race, Lewis graduated from Fisk University and the American Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds more than 50 honorary degrees from universities including Columbia, Duke, Howard, Harvard, and Princeton, and is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

Lewis’s tiff with Trump began soon after the 2016 election when the congressman remarked that he didn’t view Trump as a legitimate president and wouldn’t be attending his inauguration. Trump, of course, responded with a tweet: “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”