The house was packed Oct. 29 at the Wyndham Peachtree Hotel and Conference Center as the Fayette County Branch of the NAACP held its 14th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet. Front and center for the occasion was keynote speaker Congressman John Lewis.
This year’s banquet theme was “Standing on the Legacy of our Past, Forging an Understanding for the Future.”
Fayette NAACP Branch President John Jones said Lewis is dedicated to the highest ethical standards and moral principles which have won him the admiration of many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress.
Lewis in his remarks drew from some of his experiences growing up near Troy, Ala., while weaving humor throughout his comments. Born the son of sharecroppers in 1940, Lewis grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Ala. As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. he heard on radio broadcasts. Meeting King in subsequent years only bolstered his commitment to the civil rights movement, he said.
Speaking about his childhood days and making the tie to his years in Congress, Lewis said, “I preached to the chickens in the 1940s and 1950s. They listened to me better than some of my colleagues today.”
Noting the significance of the NAACP, Lewis said, “We would not be where we are today without the NAACP. It has been a bridge over troubled water, and we need it more now than at any other time. And the NAACP is more than a bridge. It’s been like a shepherd.”
Lewis spoke of hearing Martin Luther King. Jr. on the radio, noting that those broadcasts were the genesis of his later involvement in the civil rights movement. And he spoke of being arrested 40 times and beaten during the 1960s.
“The first time I was arrested I felt liberated,” Lewis said. “For more than 50 years I’ve been getting in trouble. But it’s good trouble to make our country a better place. And the NAACP, for more than 100 years, has been pushing to redeem the soul of America.”
Lewis also mentioned meeting a man who decades earlier had beaten him. The man was prompted by his son to apologize to Lewis.
“He came at the behest of his own son. He apologized and asked for forgiveness. I forgave him. We both cried,” Lewis said.
Speaking of King and his efforts, Lewis said this could only happen in America.
“If people say America can’t change, hasn’t changed, I say walk in my shoes and I’ll show you the changes,” Lewis explained. “Our forefathers came to this country in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat today.”
Lewis after his remarks was presented with local branch’s first Freedom Fighter Award.
A number of local residents also received recognitions at the banquet. Those included Fayette County High School student Nicholas Britt with the Youth Community Service Award, McDonald’s owners Benjamin and Kelly Alston receiving the Corporate Community Supporter Award, Fayette County School System Deputy Superintendent Fred Oliver receiving the Excellence in Education Award and Julia H. Wright receiving the Citizen and Community Activist Award for her service to organizations such as Southwest Christian Care and the Fayetteville Police Department.
And receiving the President’s Award was attorney and developer Wayne Kendall for his work in civil rights and real estate development.
Also at the banquet, Sandy Creek High School student and Fayette NAACP Youth Council President Dara Carter gave brief report on the council’s mission and goals. Carter stressed the importance of the youth council in helping foster future leaders.