BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Georgia Congressman John Lewis, known as one of the leading figures of the American Civil Rights movement, passed away on Friday at the age of 80.
Rep. Lewis died seven months after announcing he had stage four pancreatic cancer. He also died the same day as 95-year-old civil rights leader the Rev. Cordy Tindell "C.T." Vivian.
Inspired by civil rights icons Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, Lewis became known as one of the non-violent activists who lead the 1965 march for voting rights across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma during the Jim Crow era.
After facing dozens of arrests related to his activism, Lewis went on to represent Georgia's 5th Congressional District for more than 30 years.
Massachusetts lawmakers paid tribute to the Georgia Democrat after his death was confirmed Friday by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who called him "the conscience of Congress."
Rep. Lori Trahan said Rep. Lewis led a righteous life of courage, peace, and virtue.
“His lifelong commitment to the fight for civil rights challenged our country to open its eyes and strive to be better," said Trahan. "His sacrifices paved the way for progress that generations before him could have never imagined. And his leadership inspired generations after him to sustain the movement for equality.”
Lewis didn’t just change the country, Rep. Joe Kennedy III said he also changed the world.
"With unbending optimism and unyielding faith in our better angels, he spent his life fighting to make this nation kinder, stronger and more just than he found it," said Kennedy of Lewis. "And beyond any doubt, that’s exactly what he did during his time on this earth. Not just for Black Americans, but for all who believed that none of us will be free until we are all free."
Congressman Jim McGovern said John Lewis believed in "good trouble" the concept that all of us must find the moral courage to get in the way and do something when we see something that is wrong.
"I will never forget getting arrested alongside John in front of the Sudanese Embassy as we protested the genocide in Darfur, or being part of a sit-in on the House Floor with him as we protested inaction in the face of gun violence," said McGovern. “Nor will I ever forget John’s unshakeable optimism and hopefulness during these challenging times. John often spoke of a struggle that lasts beyond a single day, week, month or year. He called it the struggle of a lifetime – but it was never his fight alone. He called on all of us to rise to the occasion and do what is right, even when it is not easy."
Senator Ed Markey said he served alongside Rep. Lewis for more than two decades, and called his a moral touchstone for Congress.
“Congressman John Lewis knew better than anyone how to build and lead a movement that modeled the kind of world we want to create," said Markey. "He was a man of integrity, intelligence, and clarity of purpose, and his spirit flowed through every single protester on America’s streets chanting Black Lives Matters and making good trouble. They are all John Lewis’s children, and his legacy will be found in the lasting change we must create in the weeks, months, and years ahead. John Lewis walked across Edmund Pettus Bridge and never stopped fighting for equality. As America confronts this moral reckoning on justice, John Lewis must continue to be our North Star."
(Photo: Getty Images)