UPDATE: Former President Barack Obama posted a stirring tribute to Congressman Lewis, recounting their last encounter talking to protesters in the wake of George Floyd‘s killing … “I told him that all those young people — of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — they were his children. They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books.”
Congressman John Lewis, a central and powerful figure in the Civil Rights movement, is dead after a 7-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Rep. Lewis, who represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for 17 terms, died Friday. He had been diagnosed as stage 4 in December 2019. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, “Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history.”
She referred to him as the “Conscience of the Congress.”
Lewis had been in Congress since 1987, but had already had an inspiring impact on American history long before that — having marched, shoulder-to-shoulder at times, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the fight for Civil Rights.
In 1961, Mr. Lewis was part of a protest against segregated buses in the South which became know as the Freedom Rides. He spoke at the landmark March on Washington in 1963, where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and marched for voting rights in Alabama in 1965.
John was one of the protesters brutalized by cops during the march from Selma to Montgomery, AL. As he led several hundred marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, John was clubbed in the head by a state trooper — fracturing his skull and leaving a scar he carried for the rest of his life.
His second-to-last tweet, back on July 7, commemorated his release from prison after he’d been arrested during a Freedom Ride in Jackson, Mississippi.
59 years ago today I was released from Parchman Farm Penitentiary after being arrested in Jackson, MS for using a so-called “white” restroom during the Freedom Rides of 1961. pic.twitter.com/OUfgeaNDOm
Recently, the Distinguished Gentleman from Georgia had become a nemesis of President Trump. Rep. Lewis did not attend Trump’s inauguration, openly called him a “racist,” and they would frequently trade barbs in the media.
Former President Obama awarded the Congressman the Medal of Freedom in 2011. During the ceremony he said, “Generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind — an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.”