Civil Rights Icon John Lewis Dies at 80

Civil rights leader and U.S. Representative John Lewis passed away Friday night at the age of 80.

Since December, he had been battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

President Barack Obama released a statement on Lewis’ death, labeling Lewis a “hero in the struggle for racial justice.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also issued a statement on Lewis’ death, calling him “a titan of the civil rights movement.”

Every day of John Lewis’s life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all.  As he declared 57 years ago during the March on Washington, standing in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial: ‘Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people.’  How fitting it is that even in the last weeks of his battle with cancer, John summoned the strength to visit the peaceful protests where the newest generation of Americans had poured into the streets to take up the unfinished work of racial justice.

Lewis spent the better part of his career and life advocating for the rights of the black community, and joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

On March 7, 1965, Lewis was beaten by Alabama State Troopers while protesting in Selma, Alabama, in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

50 years later, Lewis, alongside Barack and Michelle Obama, marched in Selma, marking the anniversary of the event decades earlier.

Lewis and Obama had long developed a bond prior to revisiting Selma, Alabama, and in 2011, then-president Obama honored Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In its obituary for Lewis, The New York Times described Lewis as:

On the front lines of the bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, with blows to his body and a fractured skull to prove it, Mr. Lewis was a valiant stalwart of the civil rights movement and the last surviving speaker at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

CNN commemorated Lewis by pointing out the longevity of his fight against racial injustice, highlighted by dozens of arrests while a part of the movement:

Lewis, a Democrat who served as the US representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district for more than three decades, was widely seen as a moral conscience of Congress because of his decades-long embodiment of nonviolent fight for civil rights. His passionate oratory was backed by a long record of action that included, by his count, more than 40 arrests while demonstrating against racial and social injustice.

A follower and colleague of Martin Luther King Jr., he participated in lunch counter sit-ins, joined the Freedom Riders in challenging segregated buses and — at the age of 23 — was a keynote speaker at the historic 1963 March on Washington.
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