Praises Pouring in For Civil Rights Icon John Lewis

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[Congressman John Lewis]
CBC: "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."
Photo: YouTube

Statements of praise and remembrances are now pouring in from many around the country after the passing of Civil Rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

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."

The Muslim Advocates organization released this statement in remembrance of Congressman Lewis by Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera:

“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.”

Congressman Lewis had recently suffered from pancreatic cancer. Gary M. Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said the following on Rep. Lewis's passing :

“We are incredibly saddened by the news of Representative Lewis’s passing. On behalf of the entire American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network family, heartfelt condolences go out to Rep. Lewis’s son John-Miles and the entire Lewis family. While we mourn his loss, we celebrate the monumental gift of his life. John Lewis was a pillar of the civil rights movement and an example of how to live a life of service.

“Throughout his life, the civil rights icon fought for freedom, equality, and human rights across countless communities, including for cancer patients, survivors, and their families. He was fiercely committed to racial and social justice, and as part of that work, to making sure access to health care was a basic human right.

“In addition to playing a pivotal role in the civil rights movement, Rep. Lewis had long been a champion of cancer issues from his work on the Atlanta City Council throughout his time in Congress. The congressman recognized racism is a public health issue and was a vocal advocate for the passage of critical patient protections in the Affordable Care Act.

“This year, an estimated 1.8 million Americans, including more than 55,000 Georgians, will be diagnosed with cancer. On behalf of Rep. Lewis and all those who will be diagnosed this year, we will continue to support research that leads to new treatments and therapies and work with our lawmakers at the federal and state level to pass measures that move us closer to a world without cancer.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James said:

“The world mourns the loss of a hero, Congressman John Robert Lewis. From a young age, John Lewis saw the perils of an unjust country and committed and risked his life to changing it. From his days leading the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to the halls of Congress, John Lewis fought to ensure that liberty and justice were truly for all. He reminded all of us that the most powerful nonviolent weapon we have is the power to vote.

“We will continue to follow the example of the great John Lewis by voting, fighting voter suppression at every turn, and standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. And of course, by getting into good and necessary trouble.

“The world was made better by Congressman Lewis, and his spirit lives on in each of us who continue the fight for a more equitable nation. Rest in power.”

NRDC President Gina McCarthy said of Lewis:

“Through six decades, John Lewis led with vision, courage and moral certitude on the frontlines of the struggle for civil rights and human dignity. He pressed us, as a nation, to move beyond a history of racial oppression, reckon with our failings, and fulfill our promise by working for justice and equity.

“From the Freedom Riders to Black Lives Matter, John Lewis marched and never grew weary. In this, of all moments, his voice calls each of us to march on in his footsteps. And that’s what we will do.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten, Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson and Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus issued the following statements:

Weingarten said:

“Rep. Lewis taught us how to be justice warriors—how to fight for freedom, how to sacrifice for justice, how to build a community that works toward a better life for all. That was ‘good trouble.’ His great moral courage is at the heart of everything we do—every fight we take on, every struggle for equality, and every wrong we try to right. He was a giant in every sense of the word, and all of us who work to repair the world owe him an enormous debt. As we continue on our journey for justice, we must hold dear his conscience, his bravery, his humility and his steadfast belief in the power of action. May his memory be a blessing—and a revolution.”

Johnson said:

“A civil rights icon and the longest-serving member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Lewis inspired all of us to make the promises of a better life accessible to everyone. He dedicated every day of his life to making ‘good trouble, necessary trouble’ and to disrupting the status quo so that future generations could live in a more just and equitable America, where civil rights and racial desegregation were more than just a dream. That will forever be his legacy.”

DeJesus said:

“It’s on us now to make Rep. Lewis proud, and to continue to build this country as he worked so hard to do for the last eight decades: peacefully, powerfully, and by bringing people together and building them up. He was a man of faith, and that faith was visible throughout his work. In his honor, we will work to create an America that fulfills the promise of equality and freedom for all people, an America that values education, democracy and the free expression of ideas, with the goal of building a better tomorrow.”

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