Congressional members honor late Rep. John Lewis with postage stamp

Nearly 200 people sat in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall for the unveiling of a forever stamp honoring the life and legacy of the civil rights icon. 

Congressional members held a ceremony to debut a postage stamp honoring the late former U.S. Congressman John R. Lewis, D-Ga.

Nearly 200 people sat in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall and looked on as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Steven Horsford, D-Nev., unveiled a forever stamp honoring the life and legacy of Lewis. 

Speaking to theGrio after the Wednesday ceremony, Rep. Horsford remembered Lewis as a civil rights and voting rights icon.

FILE – Former Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 11, 2017. New York’s governor signed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, named after the late civil rights activist who represented Georgia in the U.S. House, into law Monday, June 20, 2022, intended to prevent local officials from enacting rules that might suppress people’s voting rights because of their race. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

“Because of him, we have the ability to vote, and we need to exercise that right to vote,” said Horsford, “and as members of Congress, we need to honor his legacy by passing the John Lewis Advancement Act to protect our most fundamental right, which is the right to vote.”

U.S. Reps. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Sydney Kamlager-Dove, D-Calif., Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., were among those in attendance to honor the legacy of Lewis, who was known as the “conscience of Congress.”

Pelosi, the former speaker of the House, told theGrio that serving with Lewis was one of the “great thrills” of her tenure in Congress. “We were like brother and sister,” she recalled.

“I bought him a pin that said, ‘One Nation, One Destiny,’ and that is what was sewn into [President] Abraham Lincoln’s jacket the night that he died,” shared Pelosi. “That is what John has been about: one nation, one Destiny.”

She added, “Right up to the end, he was an inspiration.”

During the ceremony, McCarthy called Lewis “an extraordinary man of courage, compassion and moral character.”

“As a young man, he suffered for his nation so that future generations could enjoy full blessings of freedom,” the Republican House Speaker continued. “Racism and discrimination were not history for him. They were a reality.”

While McCarthy’s involvement in the unveiling of the stamp marked a rare bipartisan moment on Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Kamlager-Dove told theGrio that she took issue with the Speaker’s remarks. She argued his words were contradictory to his actions as leader of the House.

“I was troubled by the calibration of the words by the speaker, given that he represents a party that is equally committed to suppressing our right to vote,” she said, “Redistricting us. Gerrymandering us out of our political power and representation.”

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 21: A view of the new stamp featuring the late Congressman and civil rights activist John R. Lewis of Georgia, in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on June 21, 2023 in Washington, DC. Lewis spent more than 30 years in Congress and passed away in July 2020 from pancreatic cancer. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Kamlager-Dove told theGrio that she attended the ceremony to “pay tribute to a legend and an icon.” John Lewis, she said, stands taller than so many others.”

During the ceremony, Jeffries recalled his first encounter with the Georgia congressman as a freshman member of Congress on the House floor in 2013. “He called me over and asked, ‘Are you the new guy?” Jeffries recounted.

Lewis later told him, “Young man, I hope you don’t get into any trouble unless it’s good trouble.”

A graduate of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and the American Baptist Theological Seminary, Lewis dedicated his life to service and knew a lot about “good trouble” — a phrase he made famous throughout his storied career.

During the 1960s, the civil rights activist and politician founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization aimed at ending racial segregation. Lewis also played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement and led the very first march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, which ended in police violence that nearly took his life. The historical event would later become known as Bloody Sunday.  

Lewis died on July 17, 2020, after a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He left behind a legacy, particularly in Georgia, where he served as a U.S. congressman for more than 30 years.

“Everyone should strive to celebrate his incredible life and his legacy, and we should learn from it,” said McCarthy. 

The honoring of Lewis and his new postage stamp will continue on the road as congressional members will hold another special ceremony on July 21 at Morehouse College.

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