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Nashville renames prominent city street 'Rep. John Lewis Way' after late civil rights icon

Before winning a seat in Congress, he made "good trouble" as a college student in Music City.
John Lewis Being Arrested in Nashville
John Lewis, 24, national chairman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee is taken into a police patrol wagon during demonstrations in Nashville, Tenn., on April 29, 1964.Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Lawmakers in Nashville, Tennessee, agreed Thursday to rename a prominent city street after late Congressman John Lewis, whose decades of civil rights activism began in Music City.

On a voice vote, the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County approved BL2020-450, which turned stretches of Fifth Avenue into "Rep. John Lewis Way."

Lewis is closely associated with metro Atlanta, where he represented Georgia's 5th Congressional District from Jan. 3, 1987 until his death on July 17.

But the roots of his civil activism go back to Lewis' college days in Nashville at American Baptist College and Fisk University.

“That's why we did this, because this is where he got his start. Nashville gave him his training in non-violent protest," bill sponsor and council member Zulfat Suara told NBC News on Friday. "We thought it was befitting, to honor him in this way."

A young Lewis was arrested protesting a segregated lunch counter at Woolworth in Nashville on Feb. 27, 1960, in the first of many arrests he would refer to as making "good trouble."

Fifth Avenue North between Commerce Street and Interstate 65 will be renamed Rep. John Lewis Way North. And Fifth Avenue South between Broadway and Oak Street will be known as Rep. John Lewis Way South.

The Tennessee State Capitol that famed Woolworth and the bus station used by Freedom Riders are all along Fifth Avenue in Nashville.

“Nashville prepared me,” Lewis said in 2013 interview. “If it hadn’t been for Nashville, I would not be the person I am now.”

Lewis was 80 years old when he died of pancreatic cancer.

CORRECTION (Nov. 6, 2020, 4:44 p.m. ET): A caption in a previous version of this article misstated where John Lewis was placed in a police patrol wagon. It was in Nashville, Tennessee, not Nashville, North Carolina.