The honorable Representative John Lewis died on Friday from cancer after a full life dedicated to the battle against racial inequality.
Rep. Lewis announced his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer on Dec. 29, but he vowed to fight it with the same esteem that he had with his lifelong work. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said. He died merely 7 months later at the age of 80. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus confirmed his death.
Born to sharecroppers near Troy, Ala., in 1941, Rep. Lewis was no stranger to racial injustices. From a teenager, he was engaged with the civil rights movement for the equality of all Americans. His work informs his legacy.
“I want to continue to be part of an effort to make America one— where we lay down the burden of race, the burden of hate, and create one society— one people. My philosophy is very simple,” he told “The View” on their MLK Day show in 2018. “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something.”
He was amongst the 13 original black and white activists called the Freedom Riders challenging segregation in the Jim Crow South. He was a founder and early leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee which organized sit-ins, teaching students how to nonviolently fight against racial brutalities.
Rep. Lewis was just a young man in his early 20s when he stood as the youngest keynote speaker at the March on Washington in 1963 where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.”
On March 7, 1965, Rep. Lewis led a march partway across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. to demand voting rights along with 600 protestors. The protestors were met with a sea of blue troops ordering the crowds to disperse, they refused. The troops used teargas and other weapons to disburse the protestors. Young Lewis was cracked over the skull with a billy club. The day became known as Bloody Sunday. The exposure of the brutality of that Sunday led President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act which served as a milestone during the civil rights movement.
Arrested 40 times for the movement, Rep. Lewis was always prepared to stir up some “good trouble.”
In 1986, he was elected as representative for Ga. in the U.S.House of Representatives. He served for three decades leading up to his death. John Lewis was a revolutionary, dedicated leader for the fight against injustices for all, and this he will be remembered by.