PEORIA - One of the United States' most important civil rights activists is in the River City, today.
Congressman John Lewis marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and changed the course of history.
Today, he passed his wisdom on to Bradley Students- and anyone in attendance- at the University's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“Peoria has progressed substantially. Back in the 50s, African Americans especially in this town had to fight to live where their income would take them. That's not a fight anymore,” said President of the Peoria NAACP Donald Jackson
Thanks in part to civil rights advocates, like Congressman John Lewis.
The event capped off the university's year long focus on civil rights.
“During the past 50 years we have witnessed nothing, not anything short of a non-violent revolution,” said Congressman Lewis.
Lewis was a friend and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
They marched at some of America’s most revolutionary protests.
“Black people and white people couldn't sit at the same table in a restaurant. Couldn't ride in the same taxi cab.”
Lewis hopes the progress our country has made so far will continue.
“And the movement led to other changes when it comes to women, other minorities. Members of the gay community. It's a different world. We have to believe it.
Politicians and advocates praised leaders like Lewis at Bradley's celebration
One of them former U.S. Senate Minority Leader- and Pekin resident- the late Everett Dirksen
Who played a crucial role in passing the legislation that helped end segregation.
“He made a commitment that he was going to do everything in his power to help get the bill through the senate. And he did,” said Lewis
And now, even fifty years since the passage of the civil rights act; leaders like Lewis and Dirksen are still inspiring people to take action for equality.
“The younger generation has gotten so used to sitting back and learning information. So we have the ability to go out and change the world ourselves now,” said Bradley Student Josiah Williams.
Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom- the highest civilian award in the United States- in 2010.
He introduced President Obama at the event in Austin, Texas yesterday.