Troy University renames Bibb Graves Hall in honor of John Lewis

Troy University renames Bibb Graves Hall in honor of John Lewis
The former Bibb Graves Hall at Troy University has been renamed John Robert Lewis Hall by the school's board of trustees in honor of the late congressman and civil rights leader, a native of Pike County. Lewis once applied for admission to Troy and was refused, but he became a friend to the university in later years. Graves, a former Alabama governor, was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan. (contributed)

The Troy University Board of Trustees has renamed historic Bibb Graves Hall on the Troy campus in honor of U.S. Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis.

The name change is effective immediately and the building now bears the name John Robert Lewis Hall.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis speaks after receiving the Drum Major Award at the fourth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration and Realizing the Dream Awards in 2009. Lewis, an Alabama native and civil rights legend, died in July. (David McNew/Getty Images)

“John Lewis is a towering figure in American history, whose leadership and advocacy for nonviolent change have left a lasting legacy for us all,” said Chancellor Jack Hawkins. “Although Rep. Lewis once sought admission to then-Troy State College as a young man and was sadly ignored, I am pleased to say that he became a friend to the university. He visited our campuses several times and was a profound influence on many of us. I am grateful to the Board of Trustees for choosing to honor this Pike County native with this name change.”

Lewis was born the son of sharecroppers on Feb. 21, 1940, outside of Troy. He grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County. As a boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. In those pivotal moments, Lewis made a decision to become a part of the civil rights movement and rapidly emerged as a leader in the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.

“I am proud of my fellow board members for unanimously approving the resolution to honor Congressman John Lewis,” said Gibson Vance, president pro tempore of the Troy Board of Trustees. “John Lewis’ character, spirit and selflessness reflect the values we strive to embrace every day at Troy University.”

Troy University previously honored Lewis with an honorary doctorate in 1989 and the Hall-Waters Prize in 2006 for his memoir “Walking with the Wind.” He was the keynote speaker in 2018 during the annual Leadership Conference Celebrating African American History Month, which has since been renamed the Congressman John Lewis Leadership Conference.

“Naming this building in honor of Congressman Lewis is a great testament to the legacy of a man whose blood, sweat and tears continue to make Alabama and America a better place for all people,” said Lamar P. Higgins, vice president pro tem.

Planning is underway for a ceremony to dedicate John Robert Lewis Hall, with details to be announced soon.

David Bibb Graves was an Alabama governor who served during critical periods of history, first during years of prosperity, then the first years of the Great Depression, and later during tumultuous political conflict and slow recovery. He used his position as Grand Cyclops of the Montgomery Klavern of the Ku Klux Klan to win much of that powerful voting bloc in 1926.

During his two terms, 1927-1931 and 1935-1939, his administrations expanded the role of state government and intensified the political factionalism between liberals and conservatives within the state.

His former position with the KKK has led to public calls for the university to change the name of the hallmark building on the university’s main quad.

The action to rename the building is the result of an ad hoc committee that Vance established in May to study building-naming at Troy University.

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