Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), an icon of the 1960s civil rights movement and ardent proponent of nonviolent protest, died Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80.
The late congressman’s family announced his death “with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness” late Friday evening, according to a statement obtained by NBC News.
“He was honored and respected as the conscience of the U.S. Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the ongoing 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,” said the statement.
The son of sharecroppers, Lewis was drawn to the civil rights movement as a teenager, and participated in lunch counter sit-ins in the early 1960s. He later became the youngest member of the “Big Six,” the colloquial name for the group of civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., who organized the March on Washington.
Shortly after his passing, politicians from across the political spectrum spoke positively of his memory and defining contributions to American history.
“John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation – from the determination with which he met discrimination at lunch counters and on Freedom Rides, to the courage he showed as a young man facing down violence and death on Edmund Pettus Bridge, to the moral leadership he brought to the Congress for more than 30 years,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) praised Lewis’ civil rights work, and talked about the humbling experience of “joining hands with John as members of Congress and” singing “We Shall Overcome at a 2008 ceremony honoring his friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
“It could not have been more humbling to consider what he had sacrificed so those words could be sung in that place,” said McConnell.
President Donald Trump said he and First Lady Melania Trump were “saddened to hear the news of civil rights hero John Lewis passing,” and were sending prayers to the late congressman’s family.
Saddened to hear the news of civil rights hero John Lewis passing. Melania and I send our prayers to he and his family.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2020
Vice President Mike Pence, who considered Lewis a “colleague and a friend,” said he was “unfailingly kind” and that his “selflessness and conviction rendered our nation into a more perfect union, and his example will inspire generations of Americans.”
Former President Barack Obama said of Lewis that 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.”
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