Lewis Students and Staff Head South for Civil Rights History Tour


Courtesy of Deborah March

Lewis students travelled as far as Alabama to visit sites important to the life and times of Rep. John R. Lewis, including the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.

Urael Debas, Guest Writer

To learn more about John R Lewis and his legacy, the Lewis High School Alabama Trip in early April, allowed students and staff members to experience the gravity of Lewis’ legacy in person.  Lewis students and staff on this trip learned more about John Lewis, met his family, and traveled around the South to visit places important to John Lewis.  

As manager of John R. Lewis Leadership Program, Deborah March facilitated the spring break trip. “This was our first year ever [holding this field trip], and we plan to do it as a tradition every year. This year we chose sites connected to John Lewis’ life as well as his legacy,” March said.

I was one of the fourteen students who went on this field trip. We arrived at school to catch the bus at 6 in the morning and arrived in Nashville at 3 in the afternoon. When we were in Nashville, we visited the Woolworth Theatre. This theater was very important to the civil rights movement because there was an impactful peaceful protest staged there. We spent one night in Nashville, and then we headed to Alabama.

We went to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. This bridge was very important to the Civil Rights Movement because this was the place where activists protested on Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday was a march held in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. The protest started due to violation of civil and voting rights in Alabama, and throughout the South.  This marked a crucial moment in the struggle for African American voting rights. Six hundred protesters were brutally attacked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Bloody Sunday ( showcased the government’s systemically racist practices, increased pressure on Alabama Governor George Wallace about the lack of justice served for officer Lyndon B. Johnson who committed the crime, and pushed African Americans to continue protesting the violation of their constitutional rights to vote.  

The next day we went to the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. This was the first Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station. The Freedom Rides were bus trips during 1961 through the American South to protest segregated bus terminals and had freedom riders who were groups of white and African American civil rights activists who participated in them.  It inspired rural Southern Blacks to embrace civil disobedience as a strategy for regaining their rights to access bus terminals.  This museum tells the story of the Freedom Rides of 1961 and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama.  The Freedom Rides Museum is very important because it includes artifacts, photographs, and other items from the Freedom Rides, as well as information about the people who participated in them. This museum was very important to the Lewis students and staff because it offers educational programs for students and adults.

I met John Lewis’s Family, his cousin, nephew, and brother on Sunday April 2nd at Troy, Alabama. John Lewis’s son is Ron Lewis.  He loved coming home to visit Troy, Alabama to a family reunion or any other special occasion. He loved having family visit him at his home in Atlanta.  His wife is named Lillian Miles and she is a political adviser and a U.S Representative like her father-in-law.

Then we spent one night in Montgomery, Alabama, and the next day we drove to Atlanta, GA, which is about 2 ½ hours from Montgomery Alabama.  We went to Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park.  At Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, we visited the places where Dr. King was born, lived, worked, and worshiped. This park consists of dozens of historic buildings, including he Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King delivered many of his most powerful sermons.  It was founded in 1886, nearly twenty years after the end of the Civil Rights Movement.  

After visiting Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park, we left Atlanta, GA at 2:00 PM and drove about 11 ½ hours back to Springfield, VA, arriving at 1:30 AM. This was a powerful experience for the returning students and staff.  

Junior Genesis Coello-Berrios also went on the spring break field trip and found the history lessons learned to be transformative. 

“The highlight of the trip for me was actually discovering what our school was actually about. I don’t think any [student] was aware that our name [John R. Lewis] holds so much history. We learned all that history and took we took it in. I think I learned a lot of life lessons that I will apply in my future, but it’s also the life long bonds that I made there–like making many good friends that I will continue to be friends with even after high school,” Coello-Berrios said.

This may have been the first time Lewis students took this trip, but it will not be the last, according to March.

“This was one of 22 field trips we took as the Lewis Leadership Program this year, and we plan to do just as much next year. We went to places in D.C. We got to meet our senator, Senator Warner. We got to meet the president of Howard University. Six of our students got to talk to an astronaut in space while he was talking to us,” March said.

This Lewis trip provided an invaluable experience for the students and staff. This allowed them to learn more about the legacy of John R. Lewis and the rich history behind the school. Visiting significant locations in Nashville, Selma, Montgomery, and Atlanta, the participants gained a deeper understanding of the civil rights movement and the challenges faced by African Americans. They learned more about him through real experiences he faced, and in this case, connected even through his family! 

I was really excited about the Lewis Leadership Program because they allowed me and anyone who was interested to go on this trip. I wanted to thank Mr. Barrow and Dr. March for allowing me to go on this trip with everybody because I was very excited and wanted to see places where John Lewis lived with his family and the places where he worked.

Interviews were collected and recorded by Saad Ali and Asma Tibta.