John Lewis Dies: Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights Icon Was 80

Congressman John Lewis will be honored at the Stellar Awards. (Credit: John Lewis for Congress)

Rep. John Lewis, an unwavering advocate for voting rights, gun control, and healthcare reform, died Friday after battling cancer. He was 80.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) announced his death in a late-night statement.

“Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history,” the statement said.

“John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation – from the determination with which he met discrimination at lunch counters and on Freedom Rides, to the courage he showed as a young man facing down violence and death on Edmund Pettus Bridge, to the moral leadership he brought to the Congress for more than 30 years,” Pelosi added.

Lewis revealed in December that he had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. He said at the time he was determined to fight the disease.

John Lewis Good Trouble. Courtesy: Tom Lankford, Birmingham News.
John Lewis is shown in an image from the film “Good Trouble.” (Courtesy: Tom Lankford, Birmingham News).

The Georgia Democrat was the last survivor of the Big Six group of civil rights activists led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. Along with King, Lewis helped organize the March on Washington in 1963, a key moment in the struggle for civil rights that led to the passage of voting rights for Black people in the United States.

After a career in local politics, Lewis began serving in Congress in 1987.

In addition to his distinguished career in politics, Lewis became a best-selling author. In 2011 he was awarded the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president.

A documentary on his life and legacy titled John Lewis: Good Trouble was just released on July 3. The film played at a free, pre-release screening as part of a drive-in movie event at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena earlier this month.

“I wanted to see it because of John Lewis and his connection with the movement back in the 1960s,” moviegoer Marilyn Myers told Urban Hollywood 411.

“It resonates with me,” added film buff Jeff Logan. “I used to work for Congresswoman Juanita McDonald on Capitol Hill, so I’m very familiar with Mr. Lewis.”

The movie, by filmmaker Dawn Porter, chronicled Lewis’ life from his early upbringing as the third of 10 children born to Alabama sharecroppers to his fateful meeting with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to his decades-long career in politics.

“My greatest fear is that one day we may wake up and our democracy is gone,” Lewis said in the film.