John Lewis, the civil rights icon and longtime congressman, died Friday night. He was 80.
John Lewis after being arrested for peacefully protesting in Jackson, Miss., in May 1961. (Kypros/Getty Images)
Lewis will be remembered for courageously preaching nonviolence during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, all the while enduring beatings and being jailed. Lewis, at age 23, even spoke in Washington, D.C., at the Lincoln Monument the same day that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Lewis would go on to serve in the halls of Congress for more than three decades, where he carried forward the spirit of the civil rights era and became known as the “Conscience of the Congress.”
In a statement, the Lewis family said:
It is with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness that we announce the passing of U.S. Rep. John Lewis. He was honored and respected as the conscience of the US 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.
In an essay reflecting on Lewis’ legacy, former President Barack Obama said that Lewis had an “enormous impact on the history of this country.”
“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. 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,” Obama wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also released a lengthy statement praising Lewis and his accomplishments.
“The Senate and the nation mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis, a pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism, promote equal rights, and bring our nation into greater alignment with its founding principles,” he said, The Hill reported. “Our great nation’s history has only bent towards justice because great men like John Lewis took it upon themselves to help bend it. Our nation will never forget this American hero.”