Congressman John Lewis a civil rights icon who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington and served in Congress for decades, has died, his family confirmed in a statement. Lewis was 80 years old.
“It is with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness that we announce the passing of U.S. Rep. John Lewis,” the statement from his family said. “He was honored and respected as the conscience of the U.S. Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the on-going struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He dedicated his entire life to non-violent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America. He will be deeply missed.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Lewis a “titan of the civil rights movement, whose good faith and bravery transformed our nation.”
In 1961, Lewis was just 21 years old when he joined the Freedom Riders who rode public transportation to Alabama in an effort to integrate bus travel. Lewis was beaten and arrested multiple times due to his activism. He was elected as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On the front lines of the bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, with blows to his body and a fractured skull to prove it, Mr. Lewis was a valiant stalwart of the civil rights movement and the last surviving speaker from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
“This feels and looks so different,” he said of the Black Lives Matter movement, which drove the anti-racism demonstrations. “It is so much more massive and all-inclusive.” He added, “There will be no turning back.”
Mr. Lewis led demonstrations against racially segregated restrooms, hotels, restaurants, public parks and swimming pools, and he rose up against other indignities of second-class citizenship. At nearly every turn he was beaten, spat upon or burned with cigarettes. He was tormented by white mobs and absorbed body blows from law enforcement.