Obama in tribute credits John Lewis for his presidency: ‘I was only there because of the sacrifices he made’

'I was only there because of the sacrifices he made,' Barack Obama writes of John Lewis' inspiring him to run for president of the United States

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) (R) is presented with the 2010 Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama during an East Room event at the White House February 15, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama paid tribute to John Lewis on Saturday saying that the late civil rights leader and Georgia congressman inspired him to run for the nation’s highest office, becoming the first Black person to be elected president of the United States.

Obama issued a statement on Lewis’ death, which was announced late Friday night, in a Medium post stating that his role as a Freedom Rider in the 1960s and work alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement was a catalyst for his political career. Lewis passed away at the age of 80 after losing his battle to pancreatic cancer.

“When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made,” said Obama, who served in the White House for two terms from 2009 – 2017. “And through all those years, he never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement to me and Michelle and our family. We will miss him dearly.”

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

Obama also recounted in the statement his most fond encounters with Lewis, including his days as a student at Harvard Law School and as a senator.

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

“I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders,” the former president stated.

Obama stressed that Lewis’ love and passion for America was evident in how he put his life on the line to see that the country lived up to its ideals.

“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” he wrote in the post. “And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”

Outside of his role as one of the original Freedom Riders, Lewis also served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery and the youngest speaker at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Decades later he was elected to Congress, representing Georgia’s 5th congressional district that includes much of Atlanta, in the late 1980s and held his seat until his death 33 years later.

READ MORE: An activist and his uphill effort to rename bridge in Selma for John Lewis

Lewis and Obama last spoke during a virtual town hall following the police killing of George Floyd. The call included young activists. Following the panel, the two spoke privately.

Kamala Harris and John Lewis thegrio.com

“I told him that all those young people — of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — they were his children,” Obama stated. “They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books.”

The former president said that Lewis told him he was “proud” of the young generation stepping up to the challenge of opposing injustice.

Former President Bill Clinton and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in a joint statement on Saturday joined Obama and the general public in paying tribute to the civil rights giant, who was known as the “Conscience of the Congress.”

“We have lost a giant,” the statement read. “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.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a tweet that Lewis was a “titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation.”

President Donald Trump has yet to make a statement on Lewis’ death, but the White House has issued an order that the American flag be flown at half-staff at public buildings and defense bases.

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