John Lewis, the civil rights icon and Georgia Congressman who fought for freedom alongside Martin Luther King Jr., has died. Lewis, 80, passed away at his home on Friday (July 17).
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year.
Born in Alabama in 1940, Lewis grew up on his family farm and attended segregated schools. As a young man, Lewis decided to join the Civil Rights Movement after listening to the Montgomery Bus Boycott on the radio, and being inspired by the words of MLK.
While attending Fisk University, Lewis organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. He joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and participated in Freedom Rides as a way to push back against segregation laws of the time. Lewis was also instrumental in the 1963 March on Washington, coordinated voting registration efforts, and was beaten and arrested during the “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
Lewis put his life on the line and was arrested dozens of times during the civil rights movement, but his dedication to activism never wavered. He was elected into the Atlanta City Council in 1981, and elected into Congress in 1986. In addition to earning a B.A. in religion and philosophy from Fisk, Lewis was awarded honorary degrees from Harvard, Morehouse College, Duke University, Columbia University, Brown University, and more than 50 educational institutions.
Lewis’ accolades include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he was awarded by President Obama in 2011. He has also received the NAACP Spingarn Medal, the National Education Association Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award, the Preservation Hero award given by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and countless other awards.
News of his passing came hours after the death of fellow civil rights pioneer, Reverend C.T. Vivian.
Read tributes to Lewis below.
Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did:https://t.co/KbVfYt5CeQ
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) July 18, 2020
John Lewis was an icon who fought with every ounce of his being to advance the cause of civil rights for all Americans. I’m devastated for his family, friends, staff—and all those whose lives he touched.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 18, 2020
John Lewis gave all he had to redeem America’s unmet promise of equality and justice for all, and to create a place for us to build a more perfect union together. In so doing he became the conscience of the nation.
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) July 18, 2020
We are deeply saddened by the passing of John Lewis. His life-long mission for justice, equality and freedom left a permanent impression on our nation and world. The NAACP extends our sincerest condolences to his family, and we send prayers of comfort and strength to all.
— NAACP (@NAACP) July 18, 2020
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.
Rest in power, John.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) July 18, 2020
Thank you for teaching us what getting into #Goodtrouble looks like. Rest in Power John Lewis 🙏🏿
— Karine Jean-Pierre (@K_JeanPierre) July 18, 2020
— Valerie Jarrett (@ValerieJarrett) July 18, 2020
Last week when there were false rumors of Congressman John Lewis’ passing, Gayle and I called and were able to speak with him. He sounded weak but was surprisingly more alert than we expected. pic.twitter.com/8kRRDMTvFm
— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) July 18, 2020
For those of us who mourn John Lewis today, he would also want you to remember his friend Reverend C.T. Vivian. A fellow lion for justice who journeyed home to glory just hours before the Congressman. Together again now. pic.twitter.com/DMcbVYgMhf
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) July 18, 2020
Rep John Lewis dedicated his entire life to service the freedom of Black people. Through non violent direct action, through community organizing, and through elected office. You will be missed. Rest in Power.
This generation will keep fighting, struggling and winning. ✊🏾
— Black Lives Matter (@Blklivesmatter) July 18, 2020
You did, indeed, fight the good fight and get into a lot of good trouble.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) July 18, 2020
Thank you my brother. Thank you! 🙏🏿 Rest easy John Lewis. pic.twitter.com/B6CQCOQbwT
— Rihanna (@rihanna) July 18, 2020