John Lewis, a civil rights leader who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 voting-rights march in Selma, Alabama, died Friday at age 80.
Lewis, who eventually represented Georgia in the United States House of Representatives, announced in December that he had pancreatic cancer.
“I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” Lewis said then. “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”
Lewis was one of the six main organizers — including the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior — of the Washington march, when King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
“In the Congress, John Lewis was revered and beloved on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement. “May his memory be an inspiration that moves us all to, in the face of injustice, make ‘good trouble, necessary trouble.’ ”
In the 1961 Freedom Rides, black and white civil rights activists rode buses together through the South in an effort to end segregation in public transportation facilities after the U.S. Supreme Court had outlawed it. In Montgomery, Alabama, Lewis was hit in the head with a wooden crate.
“It was very violent,” he said in a 2001 interview with CNN on the 40th anniversary of the rides. “I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery, unconscious.”
On March 7, 1965, a day that would become known as “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis and fellow activist Hosea Williams led more 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Police charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. Lewis suffered a fractured skull.
In 2015, Lewis, President Barack Obama and scores of members of Congress joined a reenactment of the march to mark its 50th anniversary. In a statement after Lewis’s death, Obama said they both had recently been in a virtual forum with young activists who were leading demonstrations after the death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police.
“He could not have been prouder of their efforts — of a new generation standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation intent on voting and protecting the right to vote, a new generation running for political office,” Obama said. “They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books.”