John Lewis, US civil rights icon and congressman, dies at 80

John Lewis, US civil rights icon, congressman

Washington - Tributes poured in from Democrats and Republicans alike.

By Reuters

Published: Sat 18 Jul 2020, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 19 Jul 2020, 1:45 AM

US Representative John Lewis, a pioneer of the civil rights movement and long-time member of the House of Representatives, has died, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Saturday.

Lewis, a Congressman from Atlanta who had announced in December that he had advanced pancreatic cancer, was 80.

"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," Pelosi said in a statement.

"In the Congress, John Lewis was revered and beloved on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol. All of us were humbled to call Congressman Lewis a colleague, and are heartbroken by his passing."

Lewis kept up the fight for civil rights until the end of his life. He made his last public appearance in June, as protests for racial justice swept the United States and the world.

Using a cane, he walked with Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser on a street by the White House that Bowser had just renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza, which had just been dedicated with a large yellow mural - large enough to be seen from space - reading "Black Lives Matter."

Tributes quickly began pouring in from other politicians.

"John Lewis was an icon who fought with every ounce of his being to advance the cause of civil rights for all Americans," said Senator Kamala Harris, the first African American to represent California in the Senate, on Twitter. "I'm devastated for his family, friends, staff - and all those whose lives he touched.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote on Twitter, "John Lewis was a true American hero and the moral compass of our nation. May his courage and conviction live on in all of us as we continue to make good trouble for justice and opportunity."

"Our conscience, he was a griot of this modern age, one who saw its hatred but fought ever towards the light," said Stacey Abrams, a Democratic activist and founder of Fair Fight, a voting rights group in Lewis' home state of Georgia. "And never once did he begrudge sharing its beauty. I loved him & will miss him."

A timeline of events in the life of Rep. John Lewis
Rep. John Lewis rose from poverty to become a leader of the civil rights movement before being elected to Congress

Born in rural Alabama during the dark days of Jim Crow segregation, Rep. John Lewis rose from poverty to become a leader of the civil rights movement and later was elected to Congress. Here is a timeline of some major events in Lewis' life.

Feb. 21, 1940: Born the son of Black sharecroppers near Troy, Alabama.
Fall 1959: Long interested in civil rights and inspired by the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis participates in a series of workshops on nonviolent confrontation while attending college in Nashville, Tennessee. He goes on to participate in sit-ins, mass meetings and the landmark "Freedom Rides" of 1961 that tested racial segregation in the South.

January 1963: Serving as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis arrives in Selma, Alabama, to help register Black people to vote. Eight months later and just days after helping Martin Luther King Jr. organize the March on Washington, Lewis is arrested for the first of more than 40 times, for civil rights activities in Selma.

March 7, 1965: Lewis is beaten by an Alabama state trooper while attempting to lead an estimated 600 voting rights marchers out of Selma on the way to Montgomery in an violent confrontation now known as Bloody Sunday. He spends two days in a hospital.
March 21-25, 1965: Lewis joins thousands of others during the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march.

1971: Lewis takes over as executive director of the Voter Education Project, a program of the Southern Regional Council.

April 5, 1977: Lewis, making his first bid for Congress in metro Atlanta, loses to a popular white politician in a runoff. Later that year he is appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct ACTION, a federal volunteer agency.

Oct. 6, 1981: Lewis wins his first political office with his election as a member of the Atlanta City Council, where he serves until 1986.

Nov. 4, 1986: Lewis is elected to Congress representing Georgia's 5th District, which includes much of Atlanta. He was re-elected 16 times, most recently without opposition in 2018. Only once did he receive less than 70% of the vote.

2001: Lewis receives the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for Lifetime Achievement, one of a multitude of honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, presented by President Barack Obama in 2011.

April 27, 2009: Lewis and four others are arrested in Washington during a demonstration at the embassy of Sudan, where they were protesting the expulsion of aid workers amid a humanitarian crisis.

March 8, 2015: Lewis joins Obama, former President George W. Bush and thousands of others in Selma at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

June 22, 2016: Lewis leads a Democratic sit-in on the House floor to protest inaction on gun control measures.

Dec. 29, 2019: Lewis announces he has been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.

July 17, 2020: Lewis dies at the age of 80.


Sources: Lewis' congressional biography, US District Court records, AP files.

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