Congressman John Robert Lewis, February 21, 1940 – July 17, 2020
The Congressional Black Caucus released the following statement on the passing of House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman and Congressional Black Caucus Member, Congressman John R. Lewis (GA-05):
The world has lost a legend; the civil rights movement has lost an icon, the City of Atlanta has lost one of its most fearless leaders, and the Congressional Black Caucus has lost our longest serving member. The Congressional Black Caucus is known as the Conscience of the Congress. John Lewis was known as the conscience of our caucus. A fighter for justice until the end, Mr. Lewis recently visited Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington DC. His mere presence encouraged a new generation of activist to “speak up and speak out” and get into “good trouble” to continue bending the arc toward justice and freedom.
The City of Atlanta has lost one of its most fearless leaders. Congressman John Lewis spent his life fighting racism and injustice wherever he confronted it, from boycotts, sit-ins, and other protests in the streets, to championing bold, progressive policies in Congress. Mr. Lewis was born and raised in Troy, Alabama, a segregated town of the Deep South. At an early age, he was inspired by the non-violent activism of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This passion drove Mr. Lewis to dedicate himself and his life to the Civil Rights Movement.
As a student at Fisk University, Mr. Lewis was a part of the Nashville Student Movement and helped organize sit-ins that eventually led to the desegregation of the lunch counters in Downtown Nashville. In 1961, he became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, an integrated group determined to ride from Washington, DC to New Orleans. In 1963, he became the Chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization he helped form.
As Chair of SNCC, John Lewis was one of the “Big 6” leaders of the historical March on Washington on August, 28, 1963, and was the youngest speaker to address the hundreds of thousands marching for jobs and freedom that day. He also played a key role in the marches from Selma to Montgomery, a campaign against the blatant voter suppression of Black citizens. He joined Hosea Williams and hundreds of civil rights marchers to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday” and suffered a fractured skull that day for the right of Black people to register and vote.
For 34 years, Mr. Lewis served Georgia’s 5th district and our country with the same burning desire to ensure America’s promises were accessible to all. He never hesitated to tell the truth about this nation’s history and injustices. In his very first Congress, John Lewis introduced a bill to create an African American history museum in Washington, DC, but the bill was blocked by Senator Jesse Helms for 15 years. But Mr. Lewis persisted, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016 and is by far the most popular museum on the National Mall.
In 2012, John Lewis unveiled a marker in Emancipation Hall commemorating the contributions of enslaved Americans to the construction of the United States Capitol. The marker was the result of literally a decade of work by a special task force led by Mr. Lewis after a bill was found in the National Archives documenting payment for slaves to build the Capitol. Congressman Lewis commented at the unveiling:
“When I walk through Statuary Hall, it means a great deal to me to know that the unusual grey marble columns were likely hewn and polished by slaves in Maryland. They quarried the stone in Maryland and sailed ships or barges many miles down the Potomac River weighed down by heavy marble columns to bring them to DC. Somehow, they carried them several miles through the streets perhaps using wagons and mules or horses, and then hoisted them up so they are standing as we see them today in the Capitol. The bronze statue sitting on top of the Capitol dome also involved the contribution of slaves. These men and woman played a powerful role in our history and that must not be forgotten.”
Legislatively, Mr. Lewis championed the Voter Empowerment Act, which would modernize registration and voting in America and increase access to the ballot. He was also an ardent advocate for immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and affordable health care for all. As Chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Lewis helped ensure the efficient implementation of laws related to tax, trade, health, Human Resources, and Social Security. He examined how the tax code subsidizes hate groups and the public health impact of gun violence. Most recently, Mr. Lewis pressed the Trump Administration to quickly deliver the stimulus checks that Congress provided in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr. Lewis continued his practice of nonviolent protest, community organizing, and grassroots activism throughout his tenure in Congress. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Mr. Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States of America. Following the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016, John Lewis led Democrats in a 26-hour sit-in on the House floor to demand that the body debate gun control measures. Every year, he led a pilgrimage to Selma to commemorate the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Even his recent health challenges could not keep him from commemorating the 55th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” this year.
Despite more than 40 arrests, brutal attacks, and physical injuries, Mr. Lewis remained devoted to the philosophy of nonviolence in his fight for justice and equality, even to this day, as America faces another reckoning with racism and hundreds of thousands around the world spark a modern-day civil rights movement against police brutality and racial injustice. He taught us to keep our eye on the prize, and that lesson is more crucial than ever. We will keep our eye on the prize of social justice, voting rights, quality education, affordable health care, and economic empowerment for every soul.
The entire Congressional Black Caucus extends our condolences to Mr. Lewis’ family, friends, staff, and the City of Atlanta.
NEA: ‘Loss of a true hero’
WASHINGTON— U.S.Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), a son of sharecroppers who was bloodied at Selma, fought for social and racial justice in the Jim Crow south, and later served in Congress for more than three decades, died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80.
National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia issued the following statement:
“Today we mourn the loss of a true American hero, Congressman John Lewis.
“John Lewis was known as the ‘Conscience of the Congress,’ and even that esteemed title does not fully describe the exceptional nature of this man’s accomplishments. His life was dedicated to the pursuit of racial justice and freedom for all; his actions transformed the nation. He truly believed in the promise of this country, a more perfect union in which all are created equal. He loved America and was willing to risk his life for his country in order to ensure it fully lived up to its promise.
“In his famous remarks at the Lincoln Memorial he said, ‘Our minds, souls and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all people.’ John Lewis never rested, nor shall we in carrying on this pursuit. His legacy will serve as an inspiration for generations to come, and his influence is seen in the streets today, as a new generation makes ‘good trouble, necessary trouble’ in the face of injustice.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Lewis family. Rest in Power.”
Democratic National Committee: ‘Our country mourns a titan’
Tom Perez, Chair,Democratic National Committee, issued the following statement:
Last night, Congressman John Lewis passed away at 80 years old, leaving behind a legacy of activism and service that will echo for generations to come.
His zeal for justice was only matched by his capacity for compassion. He sat in for justice and stood up for equality, he marched for jobs and rode for freedom.
The last living speaker from the March on Washington, he provided a bridge from how far we’ve come and a road map to where we still need to be.
Congressman Lewis never failed to remind us of our moral obligation towards one another. He lived his life acting on behalf of those facing injustice and oppression and then encouraged us to do the same — from the streets of Selma to the halls of Congress.
While many espouse the virtues of justice or a fidelity to true equality, it is the rare leader who inspires them in millions.
John Lewis was one of those leaders.
That crisp Sunday morning when he set foot on the Edmund Pettus bridge he knew what lay ahead. He understood that racism’s fists and segregation’s billy clubs would very well beat him to within an inch of his life, and if he survived he would likely wake up in a jail cell. But he stepped forward anyway, knowing full well the carnage that awaited him. He sacrificed himself so his country he loved so dearly could one day be worthy of such an act. The words of our constitution may have been written by revolutionists in 1776, but they were given meaning by a revolutionary in 1965.
His impact is inescapable. He pushed forward landmark legislation like the Civil Rights Act, showed us the power of organizing and standing up for what’s right, and inspired us to dream bigger and push harder for the kind of world we want to live in.
These lessons hold just as much, if not more, significance today.
As our country continues to grapple with racial injustice and violence, with how we welcome and treat immigrants and refugees, with how we respect and recognize the rights of LGBTQ individuals everywhere, Congressman Lewis’ directive to cause “good trouble, necessary trouble” has never been more needed.
In a moment where we have been driven apart, in a nation that feels as divided as it has ever been, let us allow John Lewis to bring us together one more time. Allow his memory to continue to lead us toward that more perfect union.
His legacy reminds us that we are truly one nation, but it also demands that we continue to work toward completing our unfinished business, his unfinished business: Justice.
May he rest in power.
Georgia Power: ‘He served as a voice for Georgians’
Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, has issued the following statement in honor of Rep. Lewis’ life and legacy:
A pillar of the Civil Rights Movement, Rep. John Lewis dedicated his life to human and civil rights, always in the forefront of the fight for racial justice. Rep. Lewis helped teach us that racism, intolerance or discrimination of any kind have no place in our communities. He was not only an icon of civil rights, but an advocate for all people. He served as a voice for Georgians across the state – ensuring all were heard. His loss will be felt as we continue the fight to end racism, building on his legacy dedicated to freedom, justice, and equality for all humankind.
Muslim advocates: Lewis led with ‘fearless courage’
The following is a statement from Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Kheraon the passing of Congressman John Lewis:
“When the newly-enacted Muslim Ban was sowing chaos and fear in the Muslim community, John Lewis went to Atlanta’s airport to demand answers. When immigration officials refused to tell him how many people were being detained, he calmly said‘Why don’t we just sit down and stay a while.’
John Lewis showed up for my community because that was what he always did wherever he saw an injustice. He was a civil rights icon because he always led with fearless courage and determination—a model for all of us and our nation’s moral conscience. We must carry his legacy forward by continuing to show up, making ‘good trouble’ and fighting bigotry wherever it exists.”
Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.