The American Historical Association takes great pleasure in presenting its Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service to Representative John Lewis for his monumental efforts as a legislator in preserving and making available to all Americans the history of the African American experience in this country.


As a man who became a leader of the US civil rights movement at an early age and was thus a direct participant in one of the key transitional moments in our nation’s development, John Lewis is a public servant who knows the value of history.

Elected to Congress in 1986, Lewis soon became a stalwart supporter of the history programs in the National Park Service. He also took up and developed an idea that had been conceived nearly a century ago, at a time when African American veterans were being excluded from anniversary commemorations of the Civil War. This was the creation of a National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall, “America’s front door,” as he called it, and a “symbol of our democracy.” In 1988 and in every Congress thereafter, Lewis introduced legislation to establish a museum, within the Smithsonian Institution, that would tell the story of African American people as a part of the history of the United States.

The dream of Lewis and others became a reality in 2003, when his bill was finally passed and signed into law, and we can now look forward to building a place in the nation’s capital where, as Lewis believes, “we will honor the legacy of African Americans and put it in a national light where it belongs.”

African American history is an important part of our country, yet the vital contributions of African Americans go virtually unrecognized. Until we understand the full African American story, we cannot understand ourselves as a nation.

—John Lewis
Statement in the House of Representatives,
November 18, 2003