US civil rights icon John Lewis passes away

Washington: US civil rights icon and Democratic Congressman John Lewis has passed away, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed in a statement. He was 80.

In the statement posted on her website and social media on late Friday confirming Lewis’s death, Pelosi said he “was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation”, and that as a Congressman he was “revered and beloved on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol”, the BBC reported.

“Every day of John Lewis’s life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all,” she said.

“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,” Pelosi added.

Lewis was one of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders, which included Martin Luther King Jr, and helped organise the historic 1963 March on Washingtonfor Jobs and Freedom at which the latter delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Lewis was the last surviving speaker from the March.

As a Congressman he was a Georgia Democrat, and represented an area which covered most of its capital Atlanta.

In December 2019, Lewis announced that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, said the BBC report.

During the civil rights movement, he was one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and then became its chairman from 1963 to 1966.

Upon news of his death, former US President Barack Obama said he had spoken with Lewis after a virtual town hall with a group of activists following the May 25 death of George Floyd, the unarmed black man who was killed under police custody in Minneapolis.

Obama said Lewis could not have been prouder of their efforts – “a new generation standing up for freedom and equality”.

“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did,” the BBC report quoted Obama as saying.

“And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”

Civil rights group the NAACP tweeted that they were “deeply saddened”, adding that “his life-long mission for justice, equality and freedom left a permanent impression on our nation and world”.

Former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren tweeted that Lewis “was a true American hero and the moral compass of our nation”.

(inputs from IANS)

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