John Lewis, Towering Figure of Civil Rights Era Dies at 80

John Lewis, Towering Figure of Civil Rights Era Dies at 80

By Spy Correspondent

Newyork: Representative John Lewis, a civil rights icon, has died at age of 80-TheSpy Uganda reports.

Lewis was the sharecroppers’ son who battled against segregation — getting his head bashed by an Alabama state trooper in Selma on “Bloody Sunday” 1965 — and later became a 17-term congressman from Georgia.

Lewis moved his fight from the lunch counters, schools, bus stations and streets of the South to the halls of Congress, where he was the Democrats’ senior chief deputy whip and member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

He waged his fight against Jim Crow segregation laws by advocating nonviolent change despite being physically attacked and arrested numerous times.

In Congress, he voted against the Gulf War and the Iraq War, led a sit-in on the House floor to demand gun control legislation, pressed for improved health care for the poor, tried to strengthen voting rights laws and fought a rearguard effort to protect welfare benefits from cuts.

Days before she wrote that open letter to Lewis, the congressman announced that doctors had discovered he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

“I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” he said in a statement at the time. “I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the Beloved Community. We still have many bridges to cross. … With God’s grace I will be back on the front lines soon. Please keep me in your prayers as I begin this journey.”

While battling cancer, he ran for reelection to an 18th term in Congress, and during the protests following the police killing of George Floyd, he visited a 2-block-long asphalt canvas on Washington’s 16th Street that says “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in giant yellow letters.

’It’s very moving. Very moving. Impressive, I think the people in D.C. and around the nation are sending a mightily powerful and strong message to the rest of the world that we will get there.” he said.

John Robert Lewis was born Feb. 21, 1940, to Willie Mae and Eddie Lewis in Pike County, Alabama. He grew up on the family’s cotton farm in Troy and attended all-Black public schools.

As a boy, he dreamt of becoming a minister.

“With the help of my brothers and sisters and cousins, we would gather all of our chickens in the chicken yard, and I would start preaching to the chickens. They never quite said ‘Amen,’” he said in a Story Corps segment that aired on NPR.

At 15, he was inspired by Rosa Parks’ refusal in 1955 to sit in the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in defiance of Jim Crow practices. After graduating high school two years later, he wrote a letter to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the leader of the nascent civil rights movement accepted Lewis’ offer to help in the struggle. King sent him a bus ticket to Montgomery and they met there.

“I was so scared. I didn’t know what to say or what to do,” Lewis recalled on StoryCorps. “And Dr. King said, ’Are you the boy from Troy? And I said, ‘Dr. King, I am John Robert Lewis.’ I gave my whole name. But he still called me the ‘boy from Troy.’”

He received a B.A. in religion and philosophy from Fisk University and was a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville, Tennessee.

As a college student, he organized sit-ins against segregated lunch counters in Nashville, and in 1961 he joined the Freedom Rides against segregation at bus terminals across the South, according to his congressional website.

Two years later, at age 23, he was the youngest speaker at the August 1963 March on Washington, where King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

“We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of,” Lewis told the sea of 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial. “For hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here.

For they are receiving starvation wages, or no wages at all. While we stand here, there are sharecroppers in the Delta of Mississippi who are out in the fields working for less than $3 a day, 12 hours a day. We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again. …

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