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On July 17, 2021, the City of Nashville will formally dedicate Rep. John Lewis Way, the former Fifth Avenue, from Jefferson Street in Germantown to Oak Street on Rutledge Hill at the historic Nashville City Cemetery. 


The late congressman and civil rights pioneer began his activist journey as a student in Nashville, serving as a leader in the momentous lunch counter sit-ins that lead to Nashville becoming the first Southern city to begin the desegregation of public places. While a student, Lewis served as one of the 13 original “Freedom Riders” before later embarking on a political career. 


Rep. John Lewis Way is not only the name of a street in Nashville, and it is a daily reminder of the way John Lewis advocated for equal justice throughout his life. 

Quote: “Speak up, speak out, get in the way … when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” – John Lewis



Memorial Service 

6 p.m. on Friday, July 16, with a memorial service at the historic First Baptist Church – Capitol Hill, 635 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., hosted by American Baptist College, Fisk University, First Baptist Church and the JLW Committee. Where speakers will remember Rep. Lewis, his time in Nashville and his contributions to the civil rights movement.



On Saturday, July 17, the city of Nashville will formally dedicate Rep. John Lewis Way with a celebration that includes a march, a dedication event on Broadway and a celebration at the historic Ryman Auditorium.


In late 2020, the Council of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County approved an ordinance to rename Fifth Avenue in memory of the late Congressman and civil rights legend. He began his work on civil rights while a student at the American Baptist Theological Seminary (now American Baptist College) and later at Fisk University


Complete details will be announced in the coming weeks.


Rep. John Lewis Way Street Dedication/The Commemorative March

9 a.m., The Rep. John Lewis Way dedication will be held at the corner of Jefferson Street and Rep. John Lewis Way with remarks from Nashville Mayor John Cooper and Rep. John Lewis Way Committee Chair Zulfat Suara. The march will begin immediately following the dedication and conclude at the Ryman Auditorium.


All are welcome to join the committee and city officials on the 1.2-mile walk. Free parking is available at the Nashville Sounds Stadium, located at 800-858 John Lewis Way N. Parking is available from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and all vehicles must be removed by 3:30 p.m. for fans to park for a Sounds baseball game.


The Celebration

11:00 a.m. A celebration at the historic Ryman Auditorium, 116 Rep. John Lewis Way, will feature remarks from honored guests and a reception.

“Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society. The work of love, peace, and justice will always be necessary, until their realism and their imperative takes hold of our imagination, crowds out any dream of hatred or revenge, and fills up our existence with their power.”
― John Lewis, in his book, “Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change”



“Nashville prepared me. If it hadn’t been for Nashville, I would not be the person I am now.” – Rep. John Lewis



Shortly after U.S. Rep John Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020, the Minority Caucus of the Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Council and a group of community leaders started talking about the idea of renaming Nashville’s Fifth Avenue in memory of the late civil rights leader


Over several weeks, the group settled on proceeding with permanently changing Fifth Avenue to Rep. John Lewis Way to recognize Lewis, who began his lifelong crusade for civil rights and civic justice while a student at the American Baptist Theological Seminary and Fisk University. 


The committee held virtual public meetings to gain input and support from the general community, and More than 2,000 individuals, to date, signed the Change.org petition to rename Fifth Avenue in honor of Rep. Lewis.


On Nov. 5, 2020, the Metro Council approved the ordinance to create Rep. John Lewis Way, beginning at the corner of Jefferson Street and Fifth through downtown to the corner of Oak Street at the historic City Cemetery.


A few weeks later, on Jan. 14, 2021, Metro Nashville’s Public Works department made the change official by removing the Fifth Avenue street signs at intersections along the route and replacing them with signs proclaiming Rep. John Lewis Way.


A formal dedication and celebration honoring Rep. Lewis, including a march on part of the route, a formal street dedication and celebration at the Ryman Auditorium, is scheduled for July 17, 2021, on the weekend of the first anniversary of Lewis’s death.


The Rep. John Lewis Way Committee


Honorable Zulfat Suara, Committee Chair, Metro Council at Large

Honorable Brenda Gilmore- Tennessee State Senate, District 19

Honorable Brenda Haywood – Deputy Mayor of Community Engagement

Honorable Vivian Wilhoite- Davidson County Assessor of Property

Mr. Greg Bailey- Founding Principal - Finley + Bailey Strategic Communications

Ms. Susan Huggins, Retired CEO, CABLE

Mr. Sam Reed- Partner at Jigsaw. Co-owner at Sinema and Eighth & Roast.

Mr. Tim Walker -Executive Director - Metro Historical Commission/Metro Historical Zoning Commission

Ms. Rita McDonald- VP of Member & Investor Relations -Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce

Mr. Tom Turner – President & CEO – Nashville Downtown Partnership

Ms. Marie Sueing- Sr. VP of Diversity & Inclusion- Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp

Dr. Phyllis Qualls Brooks -VP for Institutional Advancement- American Baptist College

Mr. Eric Brown- Sr. Policy Analyst -Mayor’s Office/Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc

Ms. Crissy Cassetty – Director- Economic Development, Nashville Downtown Partnership

Dr. Emmanuel Rowe– Executive Assistant, Eta Beta Sigma Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc

Ms. Samar Ali – President -Millions of Conversations/Co- Chair -Vanderbilt Unity Project



Video courtesy of PBS/DNC

John Robert Lewis was born on Feb. 21, 1940 in Troy, Ala., and spent much of his boyhood caring for the chickens on the 110-acre farm owned by his parents, Eddie and Willie Mae Lewis. He was the third of 10 children and lived in a house with no electricity or plumbing. 

As a young man, after high school, he made his way to Nashville where he attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary, working as a dishwasher and janitor to pay his way through school. It was here that he met the Rev. James Lawson, who was already talking with young people about nonviolent change and civil disobedience. 


Lewis was a leader of the historic lunch counter sit-ins in downtown Nashville in 1960, many of which occurred in and around the street now known as Rep. John Lewis Way. He and his fellow students later marched to the City Courthouse when then-Mayor Ben West agreed it was time to desegregate public places in Nashville. Lewis was one of the 13 original “Freedom Riders,” who took tours of the South to test two Supreme Court rulings that outlawed segregated bathrooms and waiting rooms and segregation on buses and trains. 


At age 23, representing the new Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he was the youngest person to speak from the podium at the legendary “March on Washington,” the site of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Lewis brought his own passion to the microphone that day, declaring “By the force of our demands, our determination and numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in the image of God and democracy. We must say: Wake up, America. Wake up! For we cannot stop and we will not and cannot be patient.”


Lewis would return to Nashville to begin working on a second degree at Fisk University and in 1965, he would help lead the legendary “Selma March,” across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the way to Montgomery, the capital city, to advocate for voting rights. There, Alabama state troopers attacked the protestors with clubs and tear gas as mounted officers pushed back the crowd, a day now known as “Bloody Sunday.”


In 1966, replaced as the chair of SNCC, he focused on completing his degree at Fisk and starting efforts to register African Americans to vote through the Voter Education Project. He later moved to Atlanta with his new wife, Lillian. When Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976, he named Lewis to lead ACTION, the federal volunteer agency. He ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 1977, and in 1981, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986 and served more than 30 years as the Fifth District representative.

Rep. Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020.




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