SPLC continues John Lewis’ wreath laying tradition for first time since his death


Lynsey Weatherspoon

From left, U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams and the SPLC’s Tafeni English-Relf and Margaret Huang next to a portrait of John R. Lewis, who for many years led a delegation to the Memorial to mark the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday voting rights march.

Reprinted from the Montgomery Advertiser, The Hornet Tribune

The Southern Poverty Law Center resumed its annual wreath laying ceremony honoring the late U.S. Rep John Lewis and martyrs of the civil rights movement Friday afternoon. The ceremony was the first since Lewis, who started the tradition as a way to memorialize Bloody Sunday and the struggle for the right to vote, died in July 2020.

SPLC President Margaret Huang said Lewis was deeply missed at the ceremony but hoped that they were honoring him by continuing his tradition.

“It’s been hard to imagine it without him, but I think we finally recognized this year we have people who are stepping into his seat and taking up his charge,” Huang said.

Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, who now occupies the congressional seat Lewis held until his death, spoke at the event held at the SPLC’s Civil Rights Memorial Center in downtown Montgomery. Williams said it is a “shame that in 2023 I am still fighting for the same thing that Mr. Lewis gave blood for on that bridge in Selma.”

Williams denounced gerrymandering and tactics used to dilute or suppress Black voting power, which she called “Jim Crow 2.0.”

“But make no mistake, you know, I know, we all know, that if our vote was not powerful, they wouldn’t be doing so much to try to take it away,” Williams said.

Huang, Williams and Tafeni English-Relf, director of the SPLC’s Alabama state office, laid a wreath of white roses over the circular installation memorializing 40 activists who died during the height of the civil rights movement. More than 70 people attended the event.

The wreath laying ceremony is the start of a busy weekend commemorating the march, with three days of events in Selma for the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee.