On Friday, Congressman John Lewis, one of the most powerful figures in the Civil Rights Movement, passed away at the age of 80. The icon’s home was located in the City of South Fulton. Local leaders are remembering him for his impact globally and in their own personal lives.
State Senator and Democratic Party of Georgia (DPG) Chairwoman Nikema Williams regarded Lewis as a personal hero and friend. In a statement, she remembered Lewis for his legacy of “good trouble.”
“Congressman John Lewis was America’s greatest champion in the fight for justice and equality, and showed us all how to put the people first.” said State Senator Nikema Williams. “His legacy of good trouble will ring on in generations to follow, a guiding light for those continuing to march toward a more righteous future.”
Congressman Lewis lived in Councilmember Catherine Foster Rowell’s district. She paid tribute to him on social media by sharing photos with him from over the years.
“There have been so many occasions that I’ve had the opportunity to be in the presence of this civil rights icon,” said Rowell. “I first met Representative John Lewis in the 1990s and I last saw him last year. He always gave me positive words of encouragement.”
Councilmember Corey Reeves also remembered Lewis as a source of wisdom and inspiration.
“He always took the time to talk to the youth to give words of encouragement and that’s always who he will be to me,” said Reeves.
Congressman Lewis was the longest serving member of the Congressional Black Caucus. In a statement, the group called Lewis the conscience of the caucus and recounted his recent visit to Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. “His mere presence encouraged a new generation of activists to speak up and speak out and get into good trouble to continue bending the arc toward justice and freedom.”
Congressman Lewis was born and raised in Troy, Ala., a segregated town of the Deep South. At an early age, he was inspired by the non-violent activism of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This passion drove Lewis to dedicate himself and his life to the Civil Rights Movement.
As a student at Fisk University, he was a part of the Nashville Student Movement and helped organize sit-ins that eventually led to the desegregation of the lunch counters in Nashville, Tenn. In 1961, he became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, an integrated group determined to ride from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans. In 1963, he became the Chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization he helped form.
As Chair of SNCC, Lewis was one of the “Big 6” leaders of the historical March on Washington on August, 28, 1963, and was the youngest speaker to address the hundreds of thousands marching for jobs and freedom that day. He also played a key role in the marches from Selma to Montgomery, a campaign against the blatant voter suppression of Black citizens. He joined Hosea Williams and hundreds of civil rights marchers to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday” and suffered a fractured skull that day for the right of Black people to register and vote.
Lewis was first elected to Congress in 1986 and served for 17 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Legislatively, Lewis championed the Voter Empowerment Act, which would modernize registration and voting in America and increase access to the ballot. He was also an ardent advocate for immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and affordable health care for all. As Chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Lewis helped ensure the efficient implementation of laws related to tax, trade, health, human resources and social security. He examined how the tax code subsidizes hate groups and the public health impact of gun violence.
Lewis continued his practice of nonviolent protest, community organizing, and grassroots activism throughout his tenure in Congress. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States of America. Following the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016, John Lewis led Democrats in a 26-hour sit-in on the House floor to demand that the body debate gun control measures.
Annually, Lewis led a pilgrimage to Selma to commemorate the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. An online petition was started in June to rename the bridge in honor of Lewis. His death has sparked renewed interest in the campaign, which has garnered nearly 500,000 signatures.
Since Lewis’ passing was announced, questions have swirled regarding who might fill his shoes and his seat. The Executive Committee of the Democratic Party of Georgia will name a nominee and submit the name to the Secretary of State by today at 4 p.m.
Photo: South Fulton Councilmember Corey Reeves and Congressman John Lewis (Credit: Office of Councilmember Corey Reeves)