John Lewis’ lasting gift to us sinks into our nation’s roots and sows the seeds of a movement against the tight fist of injustice. An Alabama native, he was a champion for civil rights, voting rights and created impactful change for Black Americans. Considered the “conscience of Congress,” John Lewis put his life on the line in the fight for equality and sent out a message, loud and clear, for generations to follow.
Risking his life for the most fundamental rights
55 years ago today, we were beaten, tear gassed, and trampled by horses. I thought I saw death. I thought I was going to die. I don’t know how I made it back, but I know we cannot rest. We cannot become weary. We must keep pushing and pulling and find a way to get in the way. pic.twitter.com/gg6n1CyJls— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) March 7, 2020
It’s hard to think about what more a lion like John Lewis could’ve accomplished if he wasn’t charged with the mission to fight for the most basic of human rights. Smart, but also forgiving, compassionate and caring—John Lewis dedicated his life seeking the justice that should’ve been there all along.
A true hero, John Lewis rose from poverty—first preaching to his chickens as a boy to paralyzing an entire nation with his words then jolting them forward into action.
Seeking equality for all
“I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation”
“I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”John Lewis
Not only was he champion of protecting and defending the rights of Black Americans, but he also advocated for LGBTQ rights, co-sponsoring dozens of bills including the Equality Act. He is most well-known, of course, for the day he sent shock-waves across the nation during Bloody Sunday.
A day seared in the memories of many
On March 7, 1965, John Lewis, only 25-years-old, risked his life leading 600 people across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in a peaceful demonstration for the voting rights of Black Americans. Walking hands in pocket, we nearly lost the civil rights pioneer when a police officer beat him so brutally he suffered a skull fracture.
During this day, in a striking speech, he delivered the words:
“By the forces of our demands, our determination and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in an image of God and democracy.”John Lewis
Witnessing such violence prompted Americans and members of Congress to push for change and months later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the voting rights act of 1965.
An original Freedom Rider
In addition to all of his notable work during the Civil Rights Movement, the Freedom Rides were a critical moment in John Lewis’ career. He was attacked and jailed in South Carolina for these actions, but despite the hate, John Lewis continued with his staunch principle of nonviolence.
“I also believe he far exceeded God’s expectations of him”
Birmingham and local leaders including Mayor Randall Woodfin, Alabama Senator Doug Jones, Governor Kay Ivey and Bobbie Knight, President of Miles College expressed their condolences for John Lewis via social media over the weekend.
Mayor Randall Woodfin
Make good trouble.— Randall Woodfin (@randallwoodfin) July 18, 2020
Rep. John Lewis, the conscience of Black America, has already given us our marching orders. It’s our duty to press onward. Rest well, hero. pic.twitter.com/X5AyrIPbyr
Senator Doug Jones
John Lewis was a remarkable human being whose life and work is example for us all. It is now up to us, to carry on, to “make good trouble” and fulfill the dream, and promise, of a more equal and just nation. RIP my friend. You are loved and will be missed. pic.twitter.com/9uDBaB7eh6— Doug Jones (@DougJones) July 18, 2020
Governor Kay Ivey
Our country has lost one of its most beloved Civil Rights leaders. I join my fellow Alabamians & the nation in mourning the death of Rep. John Lewis. He dedicated his life to serving his community & advocating for others. We’ll forever remember his heroism & his enduring legacy. pic.twitter.com/j35Hug22zk— Governor Kay Ivey (@GovernorKayIvey) July 18, 2020
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell
View this post on Instagram
Reflecting on Bloody Sunday during his last speech on the Selma bridge in March, John said, “Our country is a better country… But we have still a distance to travel to go before we get there.” Never give up. Never give in. Keep the faith. For John and our nation he so loved.
U.S. Rep. Martha Roby
John Lewis was truly a great American hero, who dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of equal justice for all. His legacy will live on forever, & our world is certainly better because of his courage. He has been an inspiration to countless individuals & will be missed by all. pic.twitter.com/C1YoJ2IsiO— Rep. Martha Roby (@RepMarthaRoby) July 18, 2020
Bobbie Knight, President of Miles College
“Long before he was elected to the US House of Representatives, John Lewis, an Alabama native and son of a sharecropper represented African Americans, all Americans, and especially young people. He was our collective conscience and impassioned voice for freedom.
Because of the leadership role Miles College and her students took in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, John Lewis visited the campus several times. The Miles College family was honored to have hosted him on campus for his birthday in 2016.
Lewis was our friend.”Bobbie Knight, read the full statement here
Birmingham City Council to honor John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian
We lost another civil rights leader and champion for nonviolence Rev. C.T. Vivian. He served as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s field general during the civil rights movement and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Like John Lewis, he was a champion for nonviolence and spoke on this principle saying, “In no way would we allow nonviolence to be destroyed by violence.”
President William Parker plans to honor two civil rights icons who passed away on Friday at this week’s Birmingham City Council meeting, Monday, July 20. He is asking everyone to wear black ribbons in honor of the activists. On the same day, community members and organizations are called to a candlelight vigil at Kelly Ingram Park at 6PM.
Will Edmund Pettus Bridge be renamed in his honor?
Currently named after a member of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, many activists are calling for the re-naming of Edmund Pettus Bridge. It’s viewed as a tangible link to Alabama’s history of enslavement and the terrorization of the Black community.
“My primary focus is on extending the rights of the living and not on the transgressions of the dead. The voices on the streets of the nation cry out to be heard and they demand real change.
Removing Confederate memorials and renaming buildings is not the change they seek, but it is an important step in the process towards racial healing. We must be willing to do the easy things so that we can focus on making transformational change.”Rep. Terri Sewell