John Lewis: Civil Rights Giant Dies at 80

Congressman John Lewis Dies. Photo: Flickr/Jacobs Center For Neighborhood Innovation

On the heels of the death of civil rights lion Rev. C.T. Vivian, civil rights giant Congressman John Lewis has died after battling pancreatic cancer. Lewis’ death has been confirmed by friend and civil rights legend Ambassador Andrew Young.

Lewis, the subject of celebrated documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter’s film Good Trouble, dedicated his life to public service as a civil rights activist, leader and congressperson, representing Georgia’s 5th Congressional District.

Congressman John Lewis is known and revered worldwide for his social justice activism as a young man during the modern Civil Rights movement which sparked large scale civic and social change in America. Many have seen the horrible 1965 footage and photos of Lewis being clubbed in the head while attempting to march from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL arriving at the Edmund Pettus Bridge to 150 police officers waiting to deliver violence and intimidation to the protesters marching for voting rights for Black Americans.

Then Alabama Governor George Wallace had outlawed protests and marchers, who were raising awareness about the plight of Black Americans, who had been made to pay poll taxes, take literacy tests or flatly denied their right to vote by intimidation and the threat of violence at the ballot box. At that particular time, Black Americans made up 57 percent of the population of Dallas County, which is where Selma is located, yet and still only 2 percent of Black Americans were registered to vote.

On what would be called Bloody Sunday, Lewis, who at the time was Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) along with other civil rights lions like Reverend Hosea Williams (SCLC) continued on their march despite then Governor Wallace’s threats and were attacked by the police, sending 58 people to the hospital.

The Troy, AL native, who suffered a skull fracture during the attack, left the hospital the following week to testify before Congress about what had happened to the protesters, resulting in the passage of the Voting Rights Act by Congress which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, giving Black Americans the right to vote and offering protections (National Guard) to marchers in pursuit of justice at the ballot box.

Congressman Lewis, who was arrested 40 times, five of those times since being a member of Congress while fighting for social justice, dedicated his entire life to racial progress.  In 2011, Congressman Lewis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Congressman Lewis was serving his 17th term as a Congressman prior to his death.

The freedom fighter was preceded in death by his wife of 44 years Lillian Miles in 2012. He is survived by one son John-Miles Lewis and sisters Ethel, Rosa and Ora. John Lewis was 80.

This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter @TheBurtonWire. 

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