John R. Lewis, civil rights leader, U.S. representative for Georgia’s fifth congressional district, and dean of the Georgia congressional delegation, will receive Princeton Theological Seminary’s 2015 Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life, when he delivers the Seminary’s Kuyper Lecture on Thursday, April 16 at 7 p.m. in Miller Chapel on the Seminary’s main campus.
Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls “the beloved community” in America.
As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. In those pivotal movements, he made the decision to become part of the civil rights movement, and has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.
As a student at Fisk University, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1961 he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the south. During the height of the movement, 1963–1966, he was named chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. The committee was largely responsible for organizing student activism in the movement, including sit-ins and other activities.
Lewis was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963. In 1964, he coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The following year, he led along with Hosea Williams, another notable civil rights leader, more than 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. They intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state, but were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” He is the only living “Big Six” leader of the civil rights movement.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University, and is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville. Lewis has been awarded more than fifty honorary degrees from colleges and universities across the United States, and is the recipient of numerous awards from imminent national and international institutions, including the highest civilian honor granted by President Barack Obama, the Medal of Freedom. He is the coauthor of the #1 New York Times best-selling graphic memoir trilogy March.
Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), for whom the award is named, was perhaps the greatest and most controversial figure in the Calvinist renaissance that took place at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century in the Netherlands. Trained as a theologian at the modernist University of Leiden, Kuyper converted to orthodox Calvinism during his first pastorate. In 1872 he founded a Christian newspaper, De Standard, and was elected a member of parliament in 1874. He was instrumental in the organization of the Anti-Revolutionary Party, a Christian political party, and helped in 1880 to found the Vrije Universiteit (the Free University of Amsterdam), where he regularly served as a professor of theology. In 1901, Kuyper became minister-president of the Netherlands. His worldview, as presented in his hundreds of articles, pamphlets, and books, profoundly affected the development of Reformed theology in the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, South Africa, and Korea.
The Abraham Kuyper Prize is awarded each year through the generous gift of Dr. Rimmer and Mrs. Ruth de Vries to a scholar or community leader who has contributed to the further development of Reformed theology, particularly as it bears on matters of public life, historical or contemporary, in one or several of the spheres of society. The de Vries’s gift also established an endowed faculty chair and a grant fund for graduate students at Princeton Seminary.
The lecture is free and open to the public.