John Lewis had reportedly died at the age of 80.
The Civil Rights icon and longtime Georgia congressman reportedly passed away on Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. His death led to a number of tributes from those who praised his work in fighting for voting rights and against segregation, which started when he was still a student in college.
Lewis Hailed As Civil Rights Hero
As Politico reported, Lewis rose to national prominence in the early 1960s as the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which led a number of efforts to fight for civil rights. He was one of the original Freedom Riders, a group that traveled by bus to cities across the South, sitting at segregated lunch counters in an effort to force the federal government to enforce desegregation.
Lewis also stood alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., as a leader of the march from Selma, Alabama, to Birmingham to demand voting rights for Black residents of the state. This led to a violent attack from law enforcement officers and local residents as the group attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, becoming known as Bloody Sunday.
As Politico noted, Lewis’s leadership was praised by President Barack Obama, who awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 2011.
“Generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind — an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now,” Obama said in presenting the medal to Lewis.
Lewis’s passing led to an outpouring of condolences online, with many political and Civil Rights figures paying tribute to him.
John Lewis — civil rights legend, public servant and American hero.
May your example be an inspiration and light for generations seeking justice and freedom.
Rest in Power. pic.twitter.com/vLaej3IVg5
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) July 18, 2020
And a nation weeps. John Lewis. Best friend of justice and equality. So thankful for his dedication to moral leadership.
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) July 18, 2020
We are deeply saddened by the passing of John Lewis. His life-long mission for justice, equality and freedom left a permanent impression on our nation and world. The NAACP extends our sincerest condolences to his family, and we send prayers of comfort and strength to all.
— NAACP (@NAACP) July 18, 2020
Lewis continued to strike a conciliatory tone after his work in the Civil Rights movement, calling for the nation to heal its racial wounds. As Politico reported, a white man named Elwin Wilson, who was among those who beat Lewis and other Freedom Riders, said that he came to a revelation after the election of Obama in 2008 and sought out Lewis to apologize personally.
The report noted that Lewis freely forgave the man.
“It’s in keeping with the philosophy of nonviolence,” Lewis said at the time. “That’s what the movement was always about, to have the capacity to forgive and move toward reconciliation.”
Lewis later moved into politics, serving 17 terms as a congressman from Georgia.
Lewis Had Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer
Lewis had shared late last year that he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, though he said he planned to seek treatment and at the time was optimistic about his outlook.
“While I am clear-eyed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases, that treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were, and that I have a fighting chance,” Lewis said in the statement, via Fox News.
Lewis had reportedly been in failing health in recent weeks. Reports said that he died at his home in Atlanta.