“I can’t remember the caption, but I remember he laughed,” he recalls fondly of Lewis, who died Friday at 80.
Some years after that meeting, the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist drew a cartoon of the civil rights icon as the prophet Moses saying, “Let my people vote.”
“I didn’t realize he’d hung it outside his office,” he says on Monday, “until a friend of mine sent me pictures.” Lewis, a Democrat, also once sent Luckovich a U.S. flag that had flown over the Capitol building.
So to salute the lives of Lewis and fellow civil rights leader C.T. Vivian, who also passed away Friday, Luckovich drew the two nonviolent-protest figures soaring upward on a dove above Black Lives Matter demonstrations; the caption says, “Freedom Riders.”
Lewis “was strong and courageous and, at the same time, such a sweet man,” Luckovich says.
Another Southern cartoonist, J.D. Crowe, met Lewis five years ago, in Mobile, Ala., and he drew a memorial cartoon of the congressman as “the face of patriotism and courage.”
“John Lewis was ‘good trouble’ his whole life. Lewis had the presence of a lion before he even spoke a word, and when he spoke, gracious, the heavens opened up,” says Crowe, the Alabama Media Group cartoonist who, like Lewis, is a recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Award, which honors books and journalism centering on human rights and social justice.
Virginia-based cartoonist Joe Sutliff met Lewis three years ago at the ceremony for the Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning, immediately after the congressman delivered the event’s annual lecture at the Library of Congress. Sutliff identified himself as “a small-time political cartoonist” and said: “I don’t do that much” of influence. But Sutliff says Lewis “looked at me with that [inspiring] look and said: ‘But you do something. Thank you for what you do. Now go do some more.’ ”
Sutliff drew a memorial cartoon to reflect the respect and awe he felt in that moment.
Lalo Alcaraz, the California-based cartoonist, author and Latino-rights activist, feels inspired by Lewis’s legacy. He rendered Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. — which the congressman crossed on “Bloody Sunday” in 1965 and so many times after in historic commemoration of that tide-turning protest — as John Lewis Bridge.
“John Lewis saw the big picture, fought for equality in his time, but also handed off the mission to the generations after his,” says Alcaraz, a 2020 Pulitzer Prize finalist. “I felt it was important to be forward-thinking, like John Lewis, [so] I drew a tribute within a tribute.”
Powell appreciates the significance of symbolically named monuments and structures, but the artist emphasizes that there is “urgent work to be done in Congressman Lewis’s name.”
“We need substantial legal protections and enforcement against active voter-suppression measures,” Powell says. “And we need them now, ‘or make us all witnesses to the lynching of democracy,’ to echo John Lewis himself from 1963.”
Here is how some other artists paid tribute:
Kevin Siers (Charlotte Observer):
Steve Sack (Minneapolis Star Tribune):