WASHINGTON – Congressman John Lewis, (D-GA), a 17-term veteran member of the U.S. House of Representatives died Friday at the age of 80. Lewis was an iconic pioneer in the Civil Rights movement rising to national prominence marching alongside the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior during the March on Montgomery. Lewis, then 25 years old, was wounded in the attack on the marchers by Alabama State Troopers, Deputy Sheriffs, and white supremacists at the Edmund G. Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama on what became infamously known as Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965.
U. S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a statement confirming his passage and praising Lewis
“Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history: Congressman John Lewis, the Conscience of the Congress,” she said in a statement. “John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation – from the determination with which he met discrimination at lunch counters and on Freedom Rides, to the courage he showed as a young man facing down violence and death on Edmund Pettus Bridge, to the moral leadership he brought to the Congress for more than 30 years.
In 2011, then U.S. President Barack Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. “Generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind — an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now,” Obama said as he presented the medal.
“If somebody told me one day I would be standing in the White House, and an African American president presenting me the Medal of Freedom, I would have said, ‘Are you crazy? Are you out of your mind?’” Lewis said, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Congressman Adam Schiff, (D-CA) Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, who represents a portion of Los Angeles County, tweeted Friday evening;
“We are all devastated by the loss of our friend John Lewis. Unfailingly kind and quick to smile, with a presence that radiates still. The conscience of the Congress. John, you did good and taught generations what good trouble truly means. We’ll keep fighting in your honor.”
Lewis was a longtime LGBTQ ally. On May 17, 2019, for instance, he compared the profound Brown v Board of Education desegregation decision issued by the Supreme Court on May 17, 1954, to the need to pass the Equality Act, the LGBTQ civil rights bill.
“Today, on this day, we have an opportunity to send a message now to help end discrimination in our country and set all of our people free,” Lewis said on the House floor when the Equality Act was introduced.
LGBTQ icon Jewel Thais-Williams, the longtime owner of Catch One Disco in Los Angeles, was excited to meet America’s first Black President, Barack Obama at an LGBTQ reception at the White House and “thrilled” to meet Lewis, the courageous civil rights leader with whom she identified from afar.
“Some 60-plus years ago when I was a teenager, I wished I could march and be part of the civil rights movement,” Thais-Williams told the Los Angeles Blade. She vicariously experienced the young people being hosed, beaten, and jailed, including Lewis. “So when I met him, there was a special kindred spirit of feeling like I knew him always. When they were beaten, I felt that.”
“He’s one of my heroes,” she said. “It was a thrill meeting one of the legendary survivors of the ‘Bloody Sunday’ march that made it possible for Barack Obama to be in the White House.”
California’s Governor Gavin Newsom issued the following statement Friday evening upon learning of Lewis’ death;
“We are a greater nation today because a young man in Alabama decided to devote his life to making “good trouble.” On the front lines of America’s struggle for justice, a young John Lewis literally shed some blood for the rights that we hold dear, daring to make real our nation’s founding promise. In his eight decades on earth, including distinguished service in the halls of Congress, he was a living, breathing reminder that all of us have the capacity to be a force for good.
Congressman Lewis’s legacy continues in our unceasing work to protect the right to vote and expand opportunity for all, and his spirit lives on in everyone fighting for a better, fairer America. We will hold Congressman Lewis in our hearts as we continue our march towards freedom and equality for all.”
Lewis had announced that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer last December 29, 2019.
Additional reporting by Karen Ocamb