John Lewis, American civil rights fighter, dies of pancreatic cancer at 80

John Lewis, American civil rights fighter, dies of pancreatic cancer at 80

Saturday, July 18, 2020 4:53 pm


John Lewis. Photo credi: CNN

John Lewis, American civil rights leader, has joined Martin Luther King Jr and other fighters for human equality at the great beyond. He died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 80

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the US House of Representatives announced his death in a statement she issued on Friday 17 July, 2020.

“Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history: Congressman John Lewis, the Conscience of the Congress.

“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.

“In the halls of the Capitol, he was fearless in his pursuit of a more perfect union, whether through his Voter Empowerment Act to defend the ballot, his leadership on the Equality Act to end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans or his work as a Senior Member of the Ways and Means Committee to ensure that we invest in what we value as a nation.

Mr. Lewis spearheaded a sit-in by Democratic House members on the steps of the Capitol in June 2016 in support of gun-control legislation.Credit…Al Drago/The New York Times

“Every day of John Lewis’s life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all.  As he declared 57 years ago during the March on Washington, standing in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial: ‘Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people.’  How fitting it is that even in the last weeks of his battle with cancer, John summoned the strength to visit the peaceful protests where the newest generation of Americans had poured into the streets to take up the unfinished work of racial justice.  His visit with Mayor Bowser, the Mayor of Washington, painted an iconic picture of justice.

“In the Congress, John Lewis was revered and beloved on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol.  All of us were humbled to call Congressman Lewis a colleague, and are heartbroken by his passing.  May his memory be an inspiration that moves us all to, in the face of injustice, make ‘good trouble, necessary trouble.’

“God truly blessed America with the life and leadership of John Lewis.  May it be a comfort to his son John-Miles, his entire family, Michael Collins and his entire staff that so many mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time.”

In his life time, he knew that he could find fulfillment in the fight for freedom. He put it succinctly in a 2018 Tweet:

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is joy the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is a struggle of a life time. Never ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” 

Mr. Lewis, third from left, marching with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., right, from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., ‪on March 21‬, 1961.Credit…William Lovelace/Daily Express, via Getty Images and New York Times

“John Robert Lewis, according to a report by New York Times, grew up with all the humiliations imposed by segregated rural Alabama. He was born on Feb. 21, 1940, to Eddie and Willie Mae (Carter) Lewis near the town of Troy on a sharecropping farm owned by a white man. After his parents bought their own farm — 110 acres for $300 — John, the third of 10 children, shared in the farm work, leaving school at harvest time to pick cotton, peanuts and corn. Their house had no plumbing or electricity. In the outhouse, they used the pages of an old Sears catalog as toilet paper.

John was responsible for taking care of the chickens. He fed them and read to them from the Bible. He baptized them when they were born and staged elaborate funerals when they died.

“I was truly intent on saving the little birds’ souls,” he wrote in his memoir, “Walking With the Wind” (1998). “I could imagine that they were my congregation. And me, I was a preacher.”

His family called him “Preacher,” and becoming one seemed to be his destiny. He drew inspiration by listening to a young minister named Martin Luther King on the radio and reading about the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott. He finally wrote a letter to Dr. King, who sent him a round-trip bus ticket to visit him in Montgomery, in 1958.

By then, Mr. Lewis had begun his studies at American Baptist Theological Seminary (now American Baptist College) in Nashville, where he worked as a dishwasher and janitor to pay for his education.

In Nashville, Mr. Lewis met many of the civil rights activists who would stage the lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Rides and voter registration campaigns. They included the Rev. James M. Lawson Jr., who was one of the nation’s most prominent scholars of civil disobedience and who led workshops on Gandhi and nonviolence. He mentored a generation of civil rights organizers, including Mr. Lewis.”

Mr. Lewis’s first arrest came in February 1960, when he and other students demanded service at whites-only lunch counters in Nashville. It was the first prolonged battle of the movement that evolved into the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

David Halberstam, then a reporter for The Nashville Tennessean, later described the scene: “The protests had been conducted with exceptional dignity, and gradually one image had come to prevail — that of elegant, courteous young Black people, holding to their Gandhian principles, seeking the most elemental of rights, while being assaulted by young white hoodlums who beat them up and on occasion extinguished cigarettes on their bodies.”

In three months, after repeated well-publicized sit-ins, the city’s political and business communities gave in to the pressure, and Nashville became the first major Southern city to begin desegregating public facilities.”

But Mr. Lewis lost his family’s good will. When his parents learned that he had been arrested in Nashville, he wrote, they were ashamed. They had taught him as a child to accept the world as he found it. When he asked them about signs saying “Colored Only,” they told him, “That’s the way it is, don’t get in trouble.”

But as an adult, he said, after he met Dr. King and Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man was a flash point for the civil rights movement, he was inspired to “get into trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Getting into “good trouble” became his motto for life. A documentary film, “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” was released this month.

Despite the disgrace he had brought on his family, he felt that he had been “involved in a holy crusade” and that getting arrested had been “a badge of honor,” he said in an oral history interview in 1979 with Washington University in St. Louis.”

“In 1961, when he graduated from the seminary, he joined a Freedom Ride organized by the Congress of Racial Equality, known as CORE. He and others were beaten bloody when they tried to enter a whites-only waiting room at the bus station in Rock Hill, S.C. Later, he was jailed in Birmingham, Ala., and beaten again in Montgomery, where several others were badly injured and one was paralyzed for life.

“If there was anything I learned on that long, bloody bus trip of 1961,” he wrote in his memoir, “it was this — that we were in for a long, bloody fight here in the American South. And I intended to stay in the middle of it.”

At the same time, a schism in the movement was opening between those who wanted to express their rage and fight back and those who believed in pressing on with nonviolence. Mr. Lewis chose nonviolence.”

Below is a treatise written on the civil rights leader by Katharine Q. Seelye for New York Times.

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

By Katharine Q. Seelye

‘Representative John Lewis, a son of sharecroppers and an apostle of nonviolence who was bloodied at Selma and across the Jim Crow South in the historic struggle for racial equality, and who then carried a mantle of moral authority into Congress, died on Friday. He was 80.

His death was confirmed in a statement by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Mr. Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, announced on Dec. 29 that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and vowed to fight it with the same passion with which he had battled racial injustice. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said.

On the front lines of the bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, with blows to his body and a fractured skull to prove it, Mr. Lewis was a valiant stalwart of the civil rights movement and the last surviving speaker from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

More than a half-century later, after the killing in May of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis, Mr. Lewis welcomed the resulting global demonstrations against police killings of Black people and, more broadly, against systemic racism in many corners of society. He saw those protests as a continuation of his life’s work, though his illness had left him to watch from the sidelines.

“It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds of thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets — to speak up, to speak out, to get into what I call ‘good trouble,’” Mr. Lewis told “CBS This Morning” in June.

“This feels and looks so different,” he said of the Black Lives Matter movement, which drove the anti-racism demonstrations. “It is so much more massive and all inclusive.” He added, “There will be no turning back.”

He died on the same day as did another civil rights stalwart, the Rev. C.T. Vivian, a close associate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Mr. Lewis’s personal history paralleled that of the civil rights movement. He was among the original 13 Freedom Riders, the Black and white activists who challenged segregated interstate travel in the South in 1961. He was a founder and early leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which coordinated lunch-counter sit-ins. He helped organize the March on Washington, where Dr. King was the main speaker, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.”

Get more details from the original source, New York Times 

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