Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, dies at 80

The Georgia lawmaker was battling pancreatic cancer

John Lewis
Rep. John Lewis (Photo by Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

Congressman John Lewis has passed away at the age of 80 after battling pancreatic cancer on Friday night, according to the Associated Press.

Lewis was an icon of the civil rights movement, enduring countless beatings which included a cracked skull at Bloody Sunday.

The tributes to the congressman immediately began to pour in for the Georgia lawmaker who served in the House of Representatives since 1987.

Former President Barack Obama memorialized Lewis as a man who was “exceptional” even in the face of adversity such as Jim Crow, devoting his life to changing laws that addressed inequality.

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

John Lewis
Congressman/Civil Rights Icon John Lewis (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

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“All of us were humbled to call Congressman Lewis a colleague, and are heartbroken by his passing. May his memory be an inspiration that moves us all to, in the face of injustice, make ‘good trouble, necessary trouble,'” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

As theGrio previously reported, his staff denied speculation that he had succumbed to cancer after North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams offered her sympathies in a tweet. It was later deleted.

“Rumors are not true,” Lewis’ Chief of Staff Michael Collins said at the time. “He is resting comfortably at home.”

Friday’s confirmation of his death brings an end to an era as the civil rights leader dies at a moment in time when the nation is grappling with racial tensions. He was the last living speaker at the march on Washington which he helped organize in 1963. The documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble delved into his life of activism.

Last month, Lewis attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Washington despite his sickness.

“We must say, ‘Wake up, America! Wake up!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient,” said Lewis.

Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama, the son of sharecroppers. He experienced racism and bigotry in his youth and resolved to make “good trouble,” dedicating his life to the Civil Rights Movement. He was one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961 that challenged segregation.

Read More: Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis endorses Joe Biden for president

Respected Rep. John Lewis has passed away. Lewis announced in December 2019 that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. (Photo from 2013 by Riccardo S. Savi/Getty Images for U.S. Postal Service)

Lewis, the youngest of the Big Six leaders, and the other riders were badly beaten. He was even struck in the head with a wooden crate.

“It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious,” he recalled on the 40th anniversary.

In 1963, he became the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and had already been arrested 24 times by this period. He also worked closely with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Two years later, the Voting Rights Act was passed but he never stopped devoting his life to one of public service. Obama awarded him the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom honor for his commitment to justice. It is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Even in his final days, he had a message for America and President Donald Trump.

“You must be able and prepared to give until you cannot give any more,” Lewis said last month. “We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it, and now that need is greater than ever before.”

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