Rep. John Robert Lewis (D-Ga.) passed away Friday evening after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80.
Tributes began flooding into social media to say goodbye to the civil rights icon.
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
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
.@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
My statement on the passing of Congressman John Lewis: pic.twitter.com/sFuU8cqPc8
— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) July 18, 2020
You did, indeed, fight the good fight and get into a lot of good trouble.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) July 18, 2020
Lewis was born on Feb. 21, 1940, near Troy, Ala. to a sharecropper. Growing up on the family farm in Pike County, he became inspired by the then-burgeoning civil rights movement by events including the year-long Montgomery (Ala.) Bus Boycott, in which blacks protested segregated seating. He was also moved by the words and actions of the most iconic civil rights leader of the time — a young pastor named Martin Luther King Jr., who helped organize the boycott, which began after Rosa Parks was arrested and fined for refusing to give up her seat to a white man.
While attending Fisk University, a private historically black college in Nashville, Lewis organized sit-ins to protest the segregated lunch counters at the institution. He volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rids bus tour in 1961 which challenged segregation laws all across the Deep South.
On several occasions, Lewis risked his well-being and even his life just for sitting in seats that were reserved for white riders. In addition, Lewis suffered beatings from angry mobs and endured arrests by police for challenging segregation.
By 1963, at age 23, he was already being recognized as one of the Big Six leaders of the civil rights movement. And from 1963-66 he served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which helped organize student activism to include sit-ins and other forms of protests.
In 1963, Lewis became one of the architects of a historic march on Washington, D.C., and the following year he helped organize voter registration drives and other community activities during the Mississippi Freedom Summer.
On March 7, 1965, Lewis and another civil rights leader of the time, Hosea Williams, led some 600 orderly protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., intending to march from there to Montgomery to call for voting rights in the state. During their march, demonstrators were attacked by Alabama state troopers in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” The event drew nationwide television coverage and outrage, leading to the passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act.
“Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence,” said his congressional biography.
Lewis was appointed by then-President Jimmy Carter in 1977 to head up ACTION, a federal volunteer agency with more than a quarter-million members.
In 1981, Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council, and in 1986 he was elected to the U.S. Congress to serve in Georgia’s 5th Congressional District. During his tenure, he rose to become senior whip for the Democrat Party as well as chairman of House committees and subcommittees.
Lewis earned a bachelor of arts degree in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University. He was also a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, also located in Nashville.
He was awarded more than 50 honorary degrees from a number of top colleges and universities around the country including Brown University, Princeton, Duke, Harvard, and Howard University.
Lewis has also received a number of awards from prestigious institutions including the highest civilian award in the U.S., the Medal of Freedom which he granted by President Barack Obama.
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