Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Real-life hero brings history

East Mecklenburg High School has landed a real American hero as its convention week speaker.

U.S. Rep . John Lewis, a star of the civil rights movement, will take a break from the convention on Sept. 5 to tell an auditorium full of students how crucial it is to stay in school, get an education and prepare for life.

The Georgia congressman will also talk about his own youth: At 21, as a seminary student-turned-Freedom Rider, he got beat up by bigots for daring to pass through a “whites-only” entrance at the Rock Hill bus station.

That was 1961. Four years later, while marching for voting rights in Alabama, he suffered a skull fracture when cops billy-clubbed him. In between – 1963 – he joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in speaking at the March on Washington.

Introducing Lewis to the students at East Meck will be former CLT Mayor Harvey Gantt, who made civil rights history himself when he became the first black student to be admitted to Clemson University.

Joan O’Brien, executive director of the East Meck HS Foundation, said she’s been working since March to get Lewis.

"He said 'yes' right away; since then, it's been staying in touch," she said. "I decided if we were going to have all these congressmen in town, we should get one well respected on both sides of the aisle."

-- Tim Funk