Area Lawmakers Pay Tribute To Late Civil Rights Icon John Lewis

Sunday, July 19, 2020 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Tributes from local lawmakers at various levels of government have been pouring in for John Lewis — the longtime Georgia Congressman who was a constant presence in the modern civil rights struggle. Lewis died on July 17 from pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years old.

As a college student in Nashville, Lewis helped organize the sit-ins that prompted local officials to desegregate lunch counters. From there, he joined the Freedom Riders on life-threatening bus trips across the country that helped pave the way for the effective desegregation of interstate travel. As a 23-year-old leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis was among the “Big Six” organizational leaders who planned the March on Washington in 1963.

“We’re tired of being beaten by policemen. We’re tired of seeing our people locked up in jails over and over again, and then you holler, ‘Be patient.’ How long can we be patient? We want our freedom, and we want it now,” Lewis exclaimed in his speech at the historic demonstration — a speech that he was asked to tone down by other organizers who thought his original draft was too radical.

“By and large, American politics is dominated by politicians who build their careers on immoral compromises and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic, and social exploitation,” he said that day in 1963.

Lewis was perhaps most famous for risking his life on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., during a demonstration on March 7, 1965. Lewis and Hosea Williams, another civil rights activist, led more than 600 people across the bridge before Alabama State Troopers, in an attempt to disperse the crowd, began tear gassing and beating the marchers.

The grainy, monochromatic image of Lewis getting hit over the head by a trooper is one of the most iconic images of the modern civil rights movement. Lewis sustained a fractured skull from that day and scarring on his head that stayed with him until his death.

John Lewis

An Alabama State Trooper attacks John Lewis, right foreground, with a billy club on Bloody Sunday in 1965. | AP Photo 

After Lewis died on Friday, leaders from around the world — and across Proviso Township — offered tributes to the congressman, who was first elected to the U.S. House in 1987.  In a statement, former President Barack Obama lauded Lewis for his “gentleness and humility.” Obama said the congressman’s “life was exceptional. But he never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country might do.”

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President Barack Obama hugs Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. after his introduction during the event to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., March 7, 2015. | (Caption via Wikimedia) Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Public Domain 

“John Lewis was a fearless, humble, and often times self-effacing warrior for justice, equality, and peace,” Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th) said in a statement. “I was fortunate to serve on the Ways and Means Committee with Congressman Lewis, and you always knew where he stood, it was always with and for the people, we will miss him; but his contributions and his legacy will live on and on.”

“We lost a giant in the fight for civil rights,” explained Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (4th) in a statement. “Congressman John Lewis unapologetically and fiercely fought for the rights of Black people and every marginalized population in our country. He carried on the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King first manifested in 1963 to his dying day, and we have to continue to carry that vision until it is reality.”

“I once stood in a long line to hear Congressman John Lewis speak in Springfield, Illinois,” wrote state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch in a Facebook post. “I got lucky enough to sit in the front row, and I was glued to his every word. He was so inspiring to elected officials like me because listening to him you knew he loved everyone and everything. Even the hens. #ripjohnlewis #goodtrouble.”

I once stood in a long line to hear Congressman John Lewis speak in Springfield, Illinois. I got lucky enough to sit in the front row, and I was glued to his every word. He was so inspiring to elected officials like me because listening to him you knew he loved everyone and everything. Even the hens. #ripjohnlewis #goodtrouble

Posted by Emanuel Chris Welch on Saturday, July 18, 2020

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