On Friday night it was reported that John Lewis, towering civil rights icon and longtime congressman, who never lost his activist spirit, died after a six-month battle with cancer. He was 80 years old.
The son of sharecroppers, Lewis turned to activism early in life, having met both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. by the time he was 18. He was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, who defied segregation on cross-country buses, participated in lunch counter sit-ins, and, at only 23, was a keynote speaker at the landmark 1963 March on Washington. He endured untold beatings, including during “Bloody Sunday,” when Lewis and fellow activist Hosea Williams led 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Lewis’ skull was fractured by the troopers who awaited them at the other side. The violence enacted on peaceful protesters shocked the nation and galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Lewis later entered politics, first as a member of Atlanta city council in 1981. In 1986 he was elected to represent Georgia in the House of Representatives — a position he held until his death. He never lost his activist spirit and, in 2011, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by America’s first black president, Barack Obama.
Obama was one of many who took to Twitter to honor a legend who helped change America.
Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did:https://t.co/KbVfYt5CeQ
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) July 18, 2020
“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, followed by a link to a much longer eulogy on Medium. “He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” the 44th president 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.”
Berenice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, also paid tribute.
You did, indeed, fight the good fight and get into a lot of good trouble.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) July 18, 2020
As did others in the political sphere.
John Lewis was an icon who fought with every ounce of his being to advance the cause of civil rights for all Americans. I'm devastated for his family, friends, staff—and all those whose lives he touched.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 18, 2020
God has welcomed @repjohnlewis home. Defender of justice. Champion of right. Our conscience, he was a griot of this modern age, one who saw its hatred but fought ever towards the light. And never once did he begrudge sharing its beauty. I loved him & will miss him. #JohnLewis pic.twitter.com/XNbiEsClQl
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) July 18, 2020
.@RepJohnLewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation. Every day of his life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all. pic.twitter.com/xMbfAUhLUv
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) July 18, 2020
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. In so doing he became the conscience of the nation.
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) July 18, 2020
Many in the entertainment industry also mourned his loss and celebrated his life.
What A Day… now, John Lewis. Sometimes it’s Good to meet a Hero… I was blessed every time we met. RI POWER, Sir.#thestrugglecontinues#BLM#VOTE
— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) July 18, 2020
What will the world be like without, John Lewis? What an icon. A giant among us. So grateful to have had any time with him. What warmth and wisdom he leaves behind for us. My goodness we will miss him so.
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) July 18, 2020
Rest in Heavenly peace Mr. John Lewis. Thank you for your service, for your committment to change and your courage. You did great with your time on this earth. "Goodnight sweet Prince. May flights of angels sing the to thy rest." And…pour some blessings on us down here 🙏🏿❤️ pic.twitter.com/9ZBSnLYmMa
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) July 18, 2020
Rest In Peace, John Lewis. pic.twitter.com/0ZB0FqnKQj
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) July 18, 2020
"History will not be kind to us. So you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to speak up, speak out and get in good trouble. You can do it. You must do it. Not just for yourselves but for generations yet unborn." – John Lewis#RIPJohnLewis pic.twitter.com/Xl6uWB6Ty8
— W. Kamau Bell (@wkamaubell) July 18, 2020
Oh how we will mourn your loss and yet strive to continue your fight for justice for us all! “We must never, ever give up! We must be brave,bold,courageous” John Lewis pic.twitter.com/bbxmQODmf1
— Angela Bassett (@ImAngelaBassett) July 18, 2020
And on the same day, we lose another American hero, Congressman John Lewis. Beating within an inch of his life on Bloody Sunday in Selma Alabama’65. There is blood on that ballot box that he shed to protect our rights for generations to come. He changed America. Rest In Peace pic.twitter.com/MXrOHBUUFU
— Wendell Pierce (@WendellPierce) July 18, 2020
So much love, honor and respect for John Lewis. Although we never met, I’ve always admired your courage. Rest In Peace Mr. Lewis. We got it from here… pic.twitter.com/jVrjHLKH1p
— Ice Cube (@icecube) July 18, 2020
— Diddy (@Diddy) July 18, 2020
This is the man that taught us all how to get into some #GoodTrouble. One of my heroes. A true legend. Thank you for teaching us how to fight for liberty & justice for all mankind. This photo was taken at the @HRC Dinner in DC 2016 right before the world blew up. RIP #JohnLewis pic.twitter.com/8BPFqCb5eA
— Billy Porter (@theebillyporter) July 18, 2020
Let those of us whose hearts are now overflowing with sorrow and gratitude for the extraordinary blessing that was John Lewis. Let us, with the help of God, rise to be worthy of his sacrifices and the challenges that remain. #goodtrouble
— Mia Farrow (@MiaFarrow) July 18, 2020
John Lewis, an American hero. All black lives matter, but his was a standout in the fight for equality. One of the greats.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) July 18, 2020
I cherish the memory of being a fellow keynoter with Congressman John Lewis at the annual Asian American Journalists Association conference last August in Atlanta. A towering figure for civil rights, and a voice we will miss greatly. Rest in Power, sir. pic.twitter.com/W3eeJZGM76
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) July 18, 2020
'You must be prepared if you believe in something. If you believe in something, you have to go for it. As individuals, we may not live to see the end.'
~ John Lewis
— Nancy Sinatra (@NancySinatra) July 18, 2020
— Mj Rodriguez (@MjRodriguez7) July 18, 2020
John Lewis was recently the subject of a life-spanning documentary, entitled John Lewis: Good Trouble. You can rent it here.