Rep. John Lewis Gets Surprise From His Civil Rights Past: His Early 1960s Mugshots The Georgia Democrat says he almost cried when he realized his visit to Nashville included an unexpected gift. Leaders presented him with an artifact from his early days of civil rights activism.

In Nashville, Rep. John Lewis Gets Surprise From His Civil Rights Past

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Congressman John Lewis is having a moment. The Georgia Democrat and icon of the civil rights movement just won the National Book Award. This weekend, the Nashville Public Library gave him its literary award. As Tony Gonzalez reports from member station WPLN, Lewis also got a big surprise that nearly brought him to tears.

TONY GONZALEZ, BYLINE: It was a weekend for Congressman John Lewis to remember his past. He filled an auditorium and told stories of his role in the student movement. And Lewis showed that he can still rally a crowd of hundreds.


JOHN LEWIS: When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate to stand up, to speak up and speak out and get in the way, get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.

GONZALEZ: To Lewis, good trouble meant enduring attacks and arrests while protesting segregation. And those moments inspired the gift that Nashville Mayor Megan Berry came to the stage to reveal.


MEGAN BARRY: We have something we would like to share with you. Can you bring this out?


BARRY: These are his mug shots and arrest records from 1961, 1962, 1963. You were busy. You were arrested while you were protesting injustice. You were on the right side of history when the power structure of our community was not.


GONZALEZ: The images document some of Lewis's earliest arrests during sit-ins. In one, he scowls at the camera in a suit with a skinny tie. An officer's note mentions the poor college student had five dollars in his pocket, details that Lewis hadn't seen in decades.

LEWIS: I was surprised and almost cried. I held back tears because I was so young. I had all of my hair and a few pounds lighter. I would love to have copies of them, place them in my Washington office...


LEWIS: ...So when young people, especially children, come by, they will see what happened...


LEWIS: ...And be inspired to do something.

GONZALEZ: Lewis's Nashville rap sheet had long been elusive. Over 15 years, local historian David Ewing asked the police to find the records with no luck. That changed on the eve of Lewis's visit. He heard from police spokeswoman Kris Mumford.

KRIS MUMFORD: I remember texting David, eureka, we found them.

DAVID EWING: With a small manila envelope that had not been seen since the early '60s.

GONZALEZ: They'll be seen a lot more now. The police chief teaches city history to cadets and plans to show off Lewis's records. The police department's lesson is that these days, officers should allow demonstrators to assemble. For NPR News, I'm Tony Gonzalez in Nashville.

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