It started with a potted mum and a photo.
Now, a memorial to Civil Rights leader John Lewis at his namesake elementary school in Brookhaven has grown from one woman’s tribute to her hero into a small collection of signs, flowers and drawings to honor Lewis, who died July 17.
“I was so distraught after his death, I decided I wanted to do something,” said Lissie Stahlman, 67, of Brookhaven. “I saw so many people going to the mural of him downtown, which is beautiful. I wanted to do something in our neighborhood, too.”
Lewis represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District — which includes southern Brookhaven — for 33 years until his death and was known as the “conscious of Congress.” He marched in the Civil Rights Movement and dedicated his life to voting rights.
Since Lewis’s death, people have left flowers, candles and other items to honor him at the massive mural at 219 Auburn Ave. in downtown Atlanta. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stahlman said, she wasn’t able to go to the mural to pay her respects, so she made a local memorial.
John R. Lewis Elementary, located at 2630 Skyland Drive, opened in October 2019 with Lewis present to help cut the ribbon.
“Congressman Lewis is the embodiment of what it means to lead and serve others,” Principal Lashawn McMillian said at the opening ceremony.
DeKalb County Public Schools did not respond for request for comment before press time.
Stahlman started the memorial two days after Lewis died and posted about it on her neighborhood Nextdoor group. She goes to the memorial every other day to water the flowers or laminate drawings that people have added to it.
The memorial has children’s drawings, photos of Lewis, flowers, handmade signs and yard signs with “Black Lives Matter” and “Be Kind” in bold lettering. It’s located at the elementary school sign at the entrance of the parking lot.
Stahlman said when she goes, sometimes people stop and talk to her about the memorial and share their own experiences with Lewis. Other times, drivers honk in support.
“When you start talking and sharing memories, it really bonds people,” Stahlman said. “It’s such a nice thing, especially in this day and age.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated John R. Lewis Elementary School was the first school named for John Lewis.