John Lewis, a civil rights hero who spent his entire life-fighting racism and injustice has died at the age of 80.
Lewis was the last survivor of the Big Six civil rights leaders. The Big Six were led by Martin Luther King Jr. and they were the heart and soul of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
In 1965, Lewis led an estimated 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
Lewis was the victim of a bloody beating by police in Alabama, which received national attention and helped to build up opposition to segregation.
Lewis’ passing was confirmed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late on Friday night. He had been diagnosed in December with advanced pancreatic cancer. Pelosi stated that Lewis was ‘one of the greatest heroes of American history’.
Lawmakers from across the country have paid tribute to Lewis. Many of them made posts on social media.
Nancy Pelosi made two tweets honoring her friend and coworker.
“@RepJohnLewis: hero, champion & challenge to the conscience of the nation. Your visit with the newest voices for justice at the Black Lives Matter mural with @MayorBowser was wonderful & iconic. Thank you for that final public statement in furtherance of a more perfect union.”
Her second tweet read, “@RepJohnLewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation. Every day of his life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all.”
Rep. Maxine Waters of California wrote: “Representative John Lewis has passed. It is not enough to say he was a revered civil rights icon. He was a man of impeccable integrity who dedicated his life to fighting against racism, discrimination, and injustice. John was a true leader who inspired us all to have the courage to fight.”
Ireland’s Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald tweeted her favorite quote from Lewis: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.”
She then added, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Lewis found necessary trouble when he was knocked to the ground and beaten by police during the Bloody Sunday march. He was only 25 at the time.
He suffered a fractured skull and images of the assault were shared nationally on television. The brutality of the assault forced the country to pay attention to the south’s racial oppression.
Within days, of Lewis being beaten Reverend King led more marches in the state resulting in President Lyndon Johnson pressing Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act.
Later that year the bill became law and removed barriers that had banned black people from voting.
In 1981, Lewis turned to politics. He was elected to the Atlanta City Council that year. In 1986 he won his seat in Congress and spent most of his career in the minority, but Democrats won the House in 2006 and he became his party’s senior deputy. He played a key role in keeping the party unified.
Former President Obama paid tribute to Lewis on Saturday morning saying he “stood on the shoulders” of the civil rights icon.
“I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders,” Obama wrote. “When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made.”
“And through all those years, he never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement to me and Michelle and our family,” he continued. “We will miss him dearly.”
Lewis was arrested 40 times in the 1960s, and five more times after he was elected to Congress. At the age of 78, he held a rally in which he stated that he would do it again if it would help reunite immigrant families separated by the Trump administration.
John Lewis was a true American hero whose life changed the world for the better for so many.