USA CIVIL RIGHTS ICON JOHN LEWIS DIES AT 80

Adopted from The Guardian

Lewis helped Martin Luther King organise the March on Washington in 1963 and once suffered a broken skull at the hands of state troopers

John Lewis, the civil rights hero and US Democratic congressman, has died at the age of 80.

Lewis, the son of sharecroppers from Alabama, became a prominent leader of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. A founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he became its chair in 1963, and helped organise the March on Washington, when Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I have a dream” speech.

Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the “Big Six” civil rights activists, a group led by King that had the greatest impact on the movement. He was best known for leading some 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965.

He was walking at the head of the march with his hands tucked in the pockets of his overcoat when he was knocked to the ground and beaten by police. His skull was fractured, and nationally televised images of the brutality forced the country’s attention on racial oppression in the South.

Within days, King led more marches in the state, and President Lyndon Johnson soon was pressing Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. The bill became law later that year, removing barriers that had barred black people from voting.

Lewis was elected as the congressman for Georgia’s 5th district in 1987 and held the office until his death. He announced he was being treated for stage 4 pancreatic cancer in December last year.

“I have been in some kind of fight – for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life,” he said at the time. “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed Lewis had died from pancreatic cancer in a statement on Friday night.

Former president Barack Obama said Lewis “loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise”.

“I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes,” he said. “Years later, when I was elected a US senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders. 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. And through all those years, he never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement to me and Michelle and our family. We will miss him dearly.

“It’s fitting that the last time John and I shared a public forum was at a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists who were helping to lead this summer’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

“Afterwards, I spoke to him privately, and he could not have been prouder of their efforts… I told him that all those young people – of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation – they were his children. They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it.”

Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, paid tribute to Lewis, saying he had fought “the good fight”.

Former president Bill Clinton said Lewis “gave all he had to redeem America’s unmet promise of equality and justice for all” and “became the conscience of the nation”.

Pelosi said: “Every day of John Lewis’s life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all. As he declared 57 years ago during the March on Washington, standing in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial: ‘Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people.’

“How fitting it is that even in the last weeks of his battle with cancer, John summoned the strength to visit the peaceful protests where the newest generation of Americans had poured into the streets to take up the unfinished work of racial justice.”

Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said that Lewis was a “pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism”.

“Congressman Lewis’ place among the giants of American history was secure before his career in Congress had even begun,” the Republican senator said in a statement. “You did not need to agree with John on many policy details to be awed by his life.

Pelosi said: “Every day of John Lewis’s life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all. As he declared 57 years ago during the March on Washington, standing in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial: ‘Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people.’

“How fitting it is that even in the last weeks of his battle with cancer, John summoned the strength to visit the peaceful protests where the newest generation of Americans had poured into the streets to take up the unfinished work of racial justice.”

Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said that Lewis was a “pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism”.

“Congressman Lewis’ place among the giants of American history was secure before his career in Congress had even begun,” the Republican senator said in a statement. “You did not need to agree with John on many policy details to be awed by his life.

Caption :US President Barack Obama walks alongside Lewis across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches in Selma, Alabama.

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