- Author: Frank McPherson
As Nancy Pelosi stated, "Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history: Congressman John Lewis, the Conscience of the Congress," He fought for freedom, equality and human rights all his life. The son of Alabama sharecroppers, he organized and participated in the lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville Tennessee. He was part of the original 13 Freedom Riders and delivered the keynote address at the historic march on Washington in 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. In his keynote address, Lewis stated; "We all recognize the fact that if any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about."
In 1965, at the age of 25, he participated in what was known as “Bloody Sunday”, the confrontation on the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. That day, he and others in the crowd were tear gassed and beaten with baseball bats, lead pipes, billy clubs, and chains.
In 1986 Lewis was elected to congress, and served 17 terms in the U.S. House of Representative. He was an advocate for healthcare reform, called for measures to fight poverty, create education opportunities for minorities and oversaw multiple renewals of the voting rights act. In December 2019 Lewis disclosed that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
New York Times opinion writer, Margret Renkl, interviewed Lewis in January 2020 in which she quoted Lewis as stating. “I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the Beloved Community. We still have many bridges to cross. ... With God's grace I will be back on the front lines soon. Please keep me in your prayers as I begin this journey.”
Lewis was a civil rights icon, who spend a lifetime fighting for racial justice. Through the decades he risked his life and blood for freedom and justice, his fight with cancer was one he could not win. He passed on July 17th, 2020.