John Lewis, congressman and US civil rights pioneer, dies at 80
John Lewis, a pioneer of the civil rights movement and longtime member of the United States House of Representatives, died on Friday.
Lewis, a member of Congress from Atlanta who had announced in December that he had advanced pancreatic cancer, was 80.
“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement.
“And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”
Former US President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a joint statement, “We have lost 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.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Lewis was a “titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation”.
“In the Congress, John Lewis was revered and beloved on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol. All of us were humbled to call Congressman Lewis a colleague, and are heartbroken by his passing,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Civil rights pioneer
Lewis was a protege of Martin Luther King Jr, whom he met after writing to him when Lewis was just 18. He was the last surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, having stood beside King when he made his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Two years later, Lewis nearly died while leading hundreds of marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on a peace march to Montgomery when state troopers, seeking to intimidate those demonstrating for voting rights for Black Americans, attacked protesters.
Lewis suffered a fractured skull on the day that would become known as “Bloody Sunday”.
Fifty years later, in 2015, he walked across the bridge arm in arm with Obama, the nation’s first Black president, to mark the anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march.
Lewis first entered Congress in 1986 and quickly became a figure of moral authority, with Pelosi labelling him “the conscience of the Congress”.
Lewis kept up the fight for civil rights and human rights until the end of his life, inspiring others with calls to make documentary Good Trouble.
He made his last public appearance in June, as protests for racial justice swept the US and the world.
Using a cane, he walked with Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on a street by the White House that Bowser had just renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza, which had just been dedicated with a large yellow mural – large enough to be seen from space – reading “Black Lives Matter”.
Tributes quickly began pouring in from other politicians.
“John Lewis was an icon who fought with every ounce of his being to advance the cause of civil rights for all Americans,” said Senator Kamala Harris, the first African American to represent California in the Senate, on Twitter. “I’m devastated for his family, friends, staff – and all those whose lives he touched.”
US Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote on Twitter, “John Lewis was a true American hero and the moral compass of our nation. May his courage and conviction live on in all of us as we continue to make good trouble for justice and opportunity.”
“Our conscience, he was a griot of this modern age, one who saw its hatred but fought ever towards the light,” said Stacey Abrams, a Democratic activist and founder of Fair Fight, a voting rights group in Lewis’s home state of Georgia. “And never once did he begrudge sharing its beauty. I loved him & will miss him.”