On Presidents’ Day, Atlanta salutes U.S. Rep. John Lewis


Presidents’ Day is typically one of the more sedate holidays, which some folks may realize only when they find their bank closed and note the mail wasn’t delivered.

This year was as vastly different as the current administration has been.

In Atlanta and elsewhere, many people marked the day by marching in “Not My President” protests to demonstrate against President Donald Trump’s policies and practices that they disagree with.

“The path he’s taken … it’s crazy,” marcher William Hamrick told the AJC.

As the sun set on Presidents’ Day, a celebration was getting underway for a man who’s found himself on the receiving end of the current commander in chief’s itchy Twitter finger. Every February, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta hosts a Heritage Celebration to honor Civil Rights heroes, and U.S. Rep. John Lewis is this year’s honoree.

“I remember coming to my very first event here with Dr. King. The SCLC Convention was here,” Lewis said, recalling Aretha Franklin’s powerful performance that night. “This is a wonderful place. I love coming here.”

The grand Peachtree Street hotel, an architectural gem designed by the storied John Portman, is downtown in the district Lewis represents: Georgia’s 5th Congressional district. Last month then President-elect Trump answered Lewis’ criticism that his was not “a legitimate president” with a characteristic Twitter tirade. Lewis, Trump said in a series of tweets, “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.”

MORE: Voices from the 5th District: “This is where I want to be”

The Atlanta high-rise Donald Trump planned never happened. Sad!

Trump’s Twitter barrage was a subtle subplot during Monday’s event.

In welcoming the crowd, Hyatt Regency Atlanta General Manager Peter McMahon said Lewis’ “leadership today is more relevant than ever, then mused that “just last month he had all of us fired up, defending Atlanta against a very famous critic. I’m in your district, this hotel is in your district.”

Former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, who like Lewis was a close friend and associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., introduced his friend.

“We are right in the middle of another war,” Young said. “I don’t have any doubt about the outcome. One of the things I know about John is he may not know what the future holds, but he knows who holds the future.”

Judge Glenda Hatchett, who served as event emcee, referenced the president’s verbal sparring match with Lewis without naming names.

“For those who don’t think this is a great city: we’ve got news for them,” she said.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis and Atlanta City Council member Kwanza Hall. Photo: Henry Taylor

U.S. Rep. John Lewis and Atlanta City Council member Kwanza Hall. Photo: Henry Taylor

Monday’s crowd included prominent business, civic and political leaders, many of whom lined up for a moment and photo with Lewis as the event got underway.

We got just a moment with Lewis in between handshakes and hugs. Like everyone else in the room, he didn’t mention the president by name but rather focused on the positives in the district Trump disparaged.

“The people in this district have been very, very good to me,” Lewis said, noting he’d received “hundreds of letters and calls” in support after the president’s criticism.

john-lewis-and-mary-norwoodA month into Trump’s presidency – during which the country has seen protests in response to actions such as the temporary travel ban affecting some refugees and immigrants – Lewis remains optimistic.

“It is my hope that somehow and some way we come together for the good of all the American people,” he said.

Here is a clip of Lewis’ remarks to the crowd:

 

 

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