US congressman John Lewis, civil rights icon, dead at 80
WASHINGTON, July 18, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – John Lewis, the civil rights
warrior who died Friday aged 80, excelled at what he liked to call
“good trouble” — standing up against racial injustice to forge a
better United States.
The African-American icon marched with Martin Luther King Jr., was
nearly beaten to death by police, and later as a sitting congressman
was arrested multiple times for protesting genocide or leading
immigration reform sit-ins.
“From a historical standpoint, there are few who are able to become
giants,” Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the civil rights
icon, told CNN. “John Lewis really became a giant through his examples
that he set for all of us.”
Lewis was a sharecropper’s son whose fights for justice helped
define an era, and whose moral authority as an indomitable elder
statesman left a permanent imprint in Congress.
He was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in late 2019.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted this on
Saturday: “Rep. John Lewis was an icon of the civil rights movement,
and he leaves an enduring legacy that will never be forgotten. We hold
his family in our prayers, as we remember Rep. John Lewis’ incredible
contributions to our country.”
The flag at the White House flew at half-staff Saturday morning.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered flags at the Capitol to be lowered
But Lewis had clashed with President Donald Trump on multiple
occasions — boycotting his inauguration and citing Russian
interference in the 2016 election to question his legitimacy.
Trump in turn said Lewis’s Georgia district was “horrible” and the
congressman was “all talk” and “no action.”
In a statement announcing he was ordering flags flown at half mast
at the White House and other public buildings and embassies for a day,
Trump’s only mention of Lewis was to say he was acting “as a mark of
respect for the memory and longstanding public service of
Representative John Lewis, of Georgia.”
— Risked ‘life and blood’ —
Lewis was just 21 when he became a founding member of the Freedom
Riders, who fought segregation of the US transportation system in the
early 1960s, eventually becoming one of the nation’s most powerful
voices for justice and equality.
He was the youngest leader of the 1963 March on Washington, in which
King delivered his famous “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
Lewis suffered a fractured skull that day, which would become known
as “Bloody Sunday.”
Fifty years later in 2015, he walked across the bridge arm in arm
with Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, to mark the
anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march.
Obama presented Lewis with the Medal of Freedom, among the nation’s
highest civilian honors, at a White House ceremony in 2011.
“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a
meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did,” Obama tweeted early
“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood
so that it might live up to its promise,” Obama added.
Another civil rights giant also died Friday.
Reverend CT Vivian staged anti-segregation sit-ins in the 1940s, was
an early advisor to King and helped organize the Freedom Rides. He
died early Friday at 95.
– ‘Conscience of Congress’ –
John Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama on February 21, 1940, the
third of 10 children.
US-POLITICS-CONGRESS OBIT-NEWSERIES-THREE LAST
His community was almost entirely black, and he quickly learned
about the segregation that afflicted Alabama.
Lewis, who organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters and was
arrested two dozen times for non-violent protests, was a founder and
eventual chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,
where he wrote speeches against police brutality and campaigned to
register black voters.
He was elected to Congress in 1986 and quickly became a figure of
Tributes poured in from Democrats and Republicans alike.
“Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of
American history,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the 17-term
congressman from Georgia. She described Lewis as “a titan of the civil
And Republican Senator Mitt Romney, posting on Twitter, called Lewis
a man of “unwavering principle, unassailable character, penetrating
purpose, and heartfelt compassion.”
In recent months, Lewis had stepped away from his congressional
duties as he underwent treatment for cancer.
But he returned to Washington in early June, in the midst of fiery
demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd in
Minneapolis, to walk in Black Lives Matter Plaza, the renamed
intersection near the White House that was the site of protests
“The winds are blowing, the great change is going to come,” Lewis
said days earlier during a lawmakers’ discussion on race.