United States Congressman and Civil Rights Icon John Lewis passed away this evening with multiple reports coming in about his death. He was 80 years old. The Georgia representative had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late last year and his condition over the past week had reportedly worsened. Born February 21, 1940 in Troy, Alabama, Lewis was a prominent leader during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, aiding in the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. He was also among the many Freedom Riders that rode on buses to protest segregation at the same time.
.@RepJohnLewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation. Every day of his life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all. pic.twitter.com/xMbfAUhLUv— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) July 18, 2020
After the March on Washington in 1963 came the Selma-to-Montgomery, another major protest and effort that he helped to organize. Upon crossing the the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, the protest crowd was met with violence by state troopers who attacked with nightsticks and tear gar. The event would go on to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” This particular moment in American history was depicted on the big screen in Ava DuVernay's 2014 film Selma, which featured actor Stephan James playing the part of Lewis.
Lewis was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986 and maintained his position there ever since, winning re-election sixteen times in Georgia's Fifth District. His heroism and tireless work as a citizen and representative was recognized in 2011 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
59 years ago today I was released from Parchman Farm Penitentiary after being arrested in Jackson, MS for using a so-called "white" restroom during the Freedom Rides of 1961. pic.twitter.com/OUfgeaNDOm— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) July 7, 2020
In recent years Lewis wrote about his efforts during the Civil Rights movement in the graphic novel trilogy March which he co-wrote with Andrew Aydin and which featured art by Nate Powell. The series was awarded with an Eisner Award and two Harvey Awards plus a National Book Award. The creative team were also recognized as the "Comics Person of the Year" by Time Magazine in 2016. A feature documentary on Lewis was released just weeks ago in the form of John Lewis: Good Trouble, subtitled after a frequently used quote from Lewis about his protest efforts from the 1960s and how others can continue to embody that spirit today.
Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. #goodtrouble— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) June 27, 2018
(Cover photo by Larry French/Getty Images for WS Productions)