John Lewis lion of U.S. civil rights movement takes final bow: Tributes

Tributes poured in Saturday from Democrats and Republicans for U.S. Civil rights leader and long-serving Congressman John Lewis.

He died on Friday, after losing the battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years old.

“Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the 17-term congressman from Georgia.

She described Lewis as “a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation.”

John Lewis and Barack Obama in 2015

Former U.S. President Barack Obama wrote in Medium: Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did.

“And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.

“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example”, Obama said.

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King tweeted: “Farewell, sir. You did, indeed, fight the good fight and get into a lot of good trouble. You served God and humanity well. Thank you. Take your rest”.

John Lewis: Farewell, says Bernice King

Senator Mitch McConnell, the chamber’s top Republican, hailed Lewis as “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 had stepped away from his congressional duties last year as he underwent treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

But he returned to Washington in early June, in the midst of fiery demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, to walk in Black Lives Matter Plaza, the renamed intersection near the White House that was the site of protests against injustice.

“The winds are blowing, the great change is going to come,” Lewis said days earlier during a lawmakers’ discussion on race.

Lewis, was a lion of the civil rights movement whose bloody beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 helped galvanize opposition to racial segregation.

He went on to a long and celebrated career in Congress from 1986.

He was the last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was best known for leading 600 protesters in the 1965 Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

Lewis was knocked to the ground and beaten by state troopers. He suffered a fractured skull that day.

Televised images forced the country’s attention on racial oppression.

In 2015, he walked across the bridge arm in arm with Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, to mark the anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march.

Obama presented Lewis with the Medal of Freedom, among the nation’s highest civilian honors, at a White House ceremony in 2011.

“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did,” Obama tweeted early Saturday.

“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” Obama added.

A Democrat from Atlanta, Lewis first won his U.S. House seat in 1986 and was re-elected many times.

Lewis clashed with President Donald Trump on multiple occasions — boycotting his inauguration and citing Russian interference in the 2016 election to question his legitimacy.

He was just 21 when he became a founding member of the Freedom Riders, who fought segregation of the US transportation system in the early 1960s, eventually becoming one of the nation’s most powerful voices for justice and equality.

He was the youngest leader of the 1963 March on Washington, in which King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech.

John Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama on February 21, 1940, the third of 10 children.

His community was almost entirely black, and he quickly learned about the segregation that afflicted Alabama.

Lewis, who organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters and was arrested two dozen times for non-violent protests, was a founder and eventual chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, where he wrote speeches against police brutality and campaigned to register black voters.

The civil rights movement also lost another leader on Friday.

He was Reverend CT Vivian, who also staged anti-segregation sit-ins in the 1940s.

He was an early advisor to King and helped organize the Freedom Rides.

He died early Friday at 95.

Bernice King, youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. tweeted photographs of Lewis and Vivian early Saturday, with the caption: “Elders, now ancestors. Hallelujah.”

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