Civil rights movement icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) died at the age of 80 on Friday night, July 17, after a fight with pancreatic cancer.
Lewis became a national figure by his early 20s, as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was one of the participants in the 1965 civil rights protest pushing for voting rights from Selma to Alabama’s capital, Montgomery. He was also the youngest speaker at the March on Washington alongside Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis was, by his own count, arrested more than 40 times during his days of civil rights activism.
Rest In Power John Lewis ✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/miiaH0CKp6
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) July 18, 2020
“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders—to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did:https://t.co/KbVfYt5CeQ
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) July 18, 2020
Lewis began his career in politics in 1981 and won his seat in Congress five years later. He initially endorsed Hillary Clinton over then-candidate Obama in the 2008 election before switching to Obama. Obama later honored Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also paid tribute to Lewis, calling him a “giant.”
John Lewis gave all he had to redeem America’s unmet promise of equality and justice for all, and to create a place for us to build a more perfect union together. In so doing he became the conscience of the nation.
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) July 18, 2020
“The Senate and the nation mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis, a pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism, promote equal rights, and bring our nation into greater alignment with its founding principles,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote.
“Since 1986, Congressman Lewis brought that same spirit of service to the Capitol. You did not need to agree with John on many policy details to be awed by his life, admire his dedication to his neighbors in Georgia’s Fifth District, or appreciate his generous, respectful, and friendly bearing,” he added.
My statement on the passing of Congressman John Lewis: pic.twitter.com/sFuU8cqPc8
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) July 18, 2020
“May his memory be an inspiration that moves us all to, in the face of injustice, make ‘good trouble, necessary trouble,'” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, restating Lewis’ favorite phrase he used to refer to political activism.
.@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. pic.twitter.com/xMbfAUhLUv
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) July 18, 2020
Lewis was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2019 but he vowed to continued to work. He served in the House of Representatives for more than 30 years until his death.
“I have been in some kind of fight—for freedom, equality, basic human rights—for nearly my entire life,” he said in a statement after the diagnosis. “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.” He added, “I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the Beloved Community.”