John Lewis, lion of civil rights and Congress, dies at 80

John Lewis, lion of civil rights and Congress, dies at 80

ATLANTA — John Lewis, a lion of the civil rights motion whose bloody beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 helped impress opposition to racial segregation, and who went on to a protracted and celebrated profession in Congress, has died. He was 80.

Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed Lewis’ passing late Friday night time, calling him “one of the greatest heroes of American history.”

“All of us were humbled to call Congressman Lewis a colleague, and are heartbroken by his passing,” Pelosi stated. “May his memory be an inspiration that moves us all to, in the face of injustice, make ‘good trouble, necessary trouble.’”

The condolences for Lewis had been bipartisan. Senate Majority Chief Mitch McConnell stated Lewis was “a pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism, promote equal rights, and bring our nation into greater alignment with its founding principles. ”

Lewis’s announcement in late December 2019 that he had been recognized with superior pancreatic most cancers — “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” he stated — impressed tributes from either side of the aisle, and an unspoken accord that the doubtless passing of this Atlanta Democrat would characterize the top of an period.

The announcement of his dying got here simply hours after the passing of the Rev. C.T. Vivian, one other civil rights chief who died early Friday at 95.

Lewis was the youngest and final survivor of the Huge Six civil rights activists, a gaggle led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that had the best influence on the motion. He was finest identified for main some 600 protesters within the Bloody Sunday march throughout the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

At age 25 — strolling on the head of the march together with his fingers tucked within the pockets of his tan overcoat — Lewis was knocked to the bottom and crushed by police. His cranium was fractured, and nationally televised pictures of the brutality compelled the nation’s consideration on racial oppression within the South.

Inside days, King led extra marches within the state, and President Lyndon Johnson quickly was urgent Congress to move the Voting Rights Act. The invoice turned legislation later that yr, eradicating limitations that had barred Blacks from voting.

“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and its blood so that it might live up to its promise,” President Barack Obama stated after Lewis’ dying. “Early on, he embraced the principles of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as the means to bring about real change in this country.”

Lewis joined King and 4 different civil rights leaders in organizing the 1963 March on Washington. He spoke to the huge crowd simply earlier than King delivered his epochal “I Have a Dream” speech.

A 23-year-old firebrand, Lewis toned down his supposed remarks on the insistence of others, dropping a reference to a “scorched earth” march by the South and scaling again criticisms of President John Kennedy. It was a potent speech nonetheless, through which he vowed: “By the forces of our demands, our determination and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in an image of God and democracy.”

It was virtually instantly, and perpetually, overshadowed by the phrases of King, the person who had impressed him to activism.

Lewis was born on Feb. 21, 1940, outdoors the city of Troy, in Pike County, Alabama. He grew up on his household’s farm and attended segregated public colleges.

As a boy, he needed to be a minister, and practiced his oratory on the household chickens. Denied a library card due to the colour of his pores and skin, he turned an avid reader, and will cite obscure historic dates and particulars even in his later years. He was a teen when he first heard King preaching on the radio. They met when Lewis was looking for help to change into the primary Black scholar at Alabama’s segregated Troy State College.

He in the end attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary and Fisk College in Nashville, Tennessee. He started organizing sit-in demonstrations at whites-only lunch counters and volunteering as a Freedom Rider, enduring beatings and arrests whereas touring across the South to problem segregation.

Lewis helped discovered the Scholar Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was named its chairman in 1963, making him one of many Huge Six at a young age. The others, along with King, had been Whitney Younger of the Nationwide City League; A. Philip Randolph of the Negro American Labor Council; James L. Farmer Jr., of the Congress of Racial Equality; and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. All six met on the Roosevelt Resort in New York to plan and announce the March on Washington.

The large demonstration galvanized the motion, however success didn’t come shortly. After intensive coaching in nonviolent protest, Lewis and the Rev. Hosea Williams led demonstrators on a deliberate march of greater than 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama’s capital, on March 7, 1965. A phalanx of police blocked their exit from the Selma bridge.

Authorities shoved, then swung their truncheons, fired tear fuel and charged on horseback, sending many to the hospital and horrifying a lot of the nation. King returned with hundreds, finishing the march to Montgomery earlier than the top of the month.

Lewis turned to politics in 1981, when he was elected to the Atlanta Metropolis Council.

He received his seat in Congress in 1986 and spent a lot of his profession within the minority. After Democrats received management of the Home in 2006, Lewis turned his get together’s senior deputy whip, a behind-the-scenes management submit through which he helped maintain the get together unified.

In an early setback for Barack Obama’s 2008 Democratic main marketing campaign, Lewis endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton for the nomination. Lewis switched when it turned clear Obama had overwhelming Black help. Obama later honored Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, they usually marched hand in hand in Selma on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday assault.

President Invoice Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday praised Lewis as a “giant” who turned “the conscience of the nation.”

Lewis additionally labored for 15 years to realize approval for the Smithsonian’s Nationwide Museum of African American Historical past and Tradition. Humble and unfailingly pleasant, Lewis was revered on Capitol Hill — however as some of the liberal members of Congress, he usually misplaced coverage battles, from his effort to cease the Iraq Warfare to his protection of younger immigrants.

He met bipartisan success in Congress in 2006 when he led efforts to resume the Voting Rights Act, however the Supreme Courtroom later invalidated a lot of the legislation, and it turned as soon as once more what it was in his youth, a piece in progress. Later, when the presidency of Donald Trump challenged his civil rights legacy, Lewis made no effort to cover his ache.

Lewis refused to attend Trump’s inauguration, saying he didn’t take into account him a “legitimate president” as a result of Russians had conspired to get him elected. When Trump later complained about immigrants from “s–hole countries,” Lewis declared, “I think he is a racist … we have to try to stand up and speak up and not try to sweep it under the rug.”

Lewis stated he’d been arrested 40 instances within the 1960s, 5 extra as a congressman. At 78, he informed a rally he’d do it once more to assist reunite immigrant households separated by the Trump administration.

“There cannot be any peace in America until these young children are returned to their parents and set all of our people free,” Lewis stated in June, recalling the “good trouble” he acquired into protesting segregation as a younger man.

“If we fail to do it, history will not be kind to us,” he shouted. “I will go to the border. I’ll get arrested again. If necessary, I’m prepared to go to jail.”

In a speech the day of the Home impeachment vote of Trump, Lewis defined the significance of that vote.

“When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something. Our children and their children will ask us ‘what did you do? what did you say?” Whereas the vote could be onerous for some, he stated: “We have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.”

Lewis’ spouse of 4 many years, Lillian Miles, died in 2012. They’d one son, John Miles Lewis.

Woodward reported from Washington. Related Press author Michael Warren contributed to this report.

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