There were probably over a couple hundred people that came out to witness the definition of a significant moment in Atlanta history. The date, August 22nd 2018. Location, John Lewis Freedom Parkway and the corner of Ponce De Leon Ave NE. The occasion? Well, just a short time ago John Lewis Freedom Parkway was known as simply Freedom Parkway. But, in early December 2017 a resolution sponsored by Council member Andre Dickens, that called for a street name change from Freedom Parkway to John Lewis Freedom Parkway, was approved by Atlanta City Council. Following the approval, months of preparation went into changing the street name with a public, conspicuous display of admiration in Lewis’ honor. Also of note are changes in the process of being made to the existing John Lewis Plaza.
To start, imagine this —in comes one of the most notable Freedom Riders, John Lewis, on a MARTA bus designated for him, his family members, and other close supporters. With streets partially blocked, ushered in by a crew of public safety officers, the bus turns the corner… in it is Lewis and his selected bus passengers with their eyes locked on the crowd. From the MARTA bus windows they are getting their first glimpse of the amount of people that amassed to witness “the unveiling”.
Fast forward to Lewis exiting the bus. He was met by many who must have felt it was important to document that very moment in time. Whether it was a mobile phone or another digital recording device, more than not someone was working to capture an affecting image. Lewis worked his way from one end of the park to the other, surrounded by a crowd that could be described as a swarm (Note: I am curious to know if Representative Lewis felt any other way besides “in his element” while making his way alongside the crowd to the other end of the park). Just before reaching the main stage, accompanied by Councilmember Andre Dickens and Mayor Keisha Bottoms, Lewis was welcomed by the Clark Atlanta University (CAU) Band. The band performed a series of routines just as they did while the crowd awaited Lewis’ 1 pm arrival. Once the crowd settled, Dickens introduced the John Lewis Freedom Parkway task force members, other dignitaries, Mayor Keisha Bottoms, and finally John Lewis. Dickens shared that there was a connection between John Lewis and Freedom Parkway due to Lewis’ career long commitment to civil rights. Dickens shared that Freedom Parkway and Ponce De Leon Ave were the selected cross streets not just because of the original street name but also because the section remains the only highway in Atlanta that is solely a green space, void of business infrastructure.
Additionally, new features added to the already existing John Lewis Plaza, were unveiled. With the support of KaBoom, a children’s health awareness organization, the city was able to make upgrades to the park area. These changes were inspired by Lewis’ career in Civil Rights and public service, as well as his graphic novels, the Mark trilogy. Monica Prothro, Art Program Manager with the City of Atlanta shared that the Freedom Play Space is nearing completion. Additional interpretive signage and a bus honoring the Freedom Riders will be installed before year’s end.
John Lewis Freedom Parkway and additions to John Lewis Plaza are just two public spaces in Atlanta, named in honor of Representative John Lewis. During his speech, Lewis shared that he is personally championing a day when the human race can achieve solidarity. It is likely Lewis’ career long track record of working to fulfill such an ideal that has resulted in the City of Atlanta commitment to honoring his name and legacy. If you are interested in visiting a public space in Atlanta to connect with American, African American, and Civil Rights history know that John Lewis Plaza located at the corner of the newly renamed John Lewis Freedom Parkway and Ponce De Leon Northeast, is a good place to do so.