Lawmakers Past And Present Remember John Lewis: ‘The Conscience of Congress’

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July 18, 2020 9:47 a.m.

The passing of Representative John Lewis (D-GA) on Friday has been met with a vivid stream of remembrances for the icon of civil rights whose unyielding pursuit of racial justice and equality left an indelible mark on Congress — and the nation — that he leaves behind.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) remembered the congressman in a statement issued Friday as “a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation.”

Lewis survived a brutal beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 which ultimately helped mobilize opposition to racial segregation. His long and celebrated career in Congress which spanned 17 terms following his election in 1986 stemmed from those early acts of courage.

Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists who organized the 1963 March on Washington. He shared emarks before his friend, the group’s leader, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered the landmark “I Have a Dream” speech.

“I will never forget joining hands with John as members of Congress sand We Shall Overcome at a 2008 ceremony honoring his friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wrote of Lewis in a tweeted statement. “It could not have been more humbling to consider what he had suffered and sacrificed so those would could be sung in that place.” 

McConnell described Lewis as a man who “risked everything” and “endured hatred and violence” for his dream of equality.

For his years of arrests and confrontations in pursuit of equality, as well as his unyielding demands for justice, Lewis received the highest civilian honor in 2011 from then President Barack Obama – the nation’s first Black President. At that time Obama referred to Lewis as “the conscience of the United States Congress.”

Within hours of his passing, Obama shared in a remembrance of the Lewis saying that it it was thanks to this prominent Black lawmaker that “we now all have our marching orders— to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”

Obama reflected on meeting Lewis for the first time when he was in  law school. “I told him then that he was one of my heroes,” Obama said in a statement Friday. “When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made.”

Among his final battles and joys was witnessing the global uprising for racial justice that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.

Just a month before his passing, Lewis told CBS in June that it was “very moving, very moving to see hundreds of thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets — to speak up, to speak out, to get into what I call ‘good trouble.'”

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