Rep. John Lewis, the iconic civil rights pioneer who went on to become one of the most powerful men in Congress, has died, according to reports. He was 80 years old.
The U.S. Representative from Georgia died Friday night following a battle with Stage IV pancreatic cancer that he announced late last year. His death was confirmed by multiple media outlets nearly a week after false reports of his demise circulated on social media.
Lewis’ reputation as a civil rights pioneer is as solid as can be.
The HBCU graduate who said he was inspired to fight for civil rights activism in part because of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was actively involved in protests against segregation and subjected himself to arrests and multiple beatings from racists objecting to the nonviolent demonstrations he would organize as a student at Fisk University. He was appointed to lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee before helping to organize and speak at the March n Washington in 1963.
Lewis was immortalized on the big screen in the box office smash hit, “Selma,” a 2014 motion picture that told the story of the historic voting rights marches in Alabama. The march from Selma to Montgomery later became infamously known as “Bloody Sunday” because of the violent confrontation with police that left Lewis among protesters who were injured the worst.
After the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis went on to hold several posts with going rights groups doing the type of important work that resulted in President Jimmy Carter appointing him to lead ACTION, the federal volunteer agency. A few years later, Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council and ultimately voted into Congress in 1986, where he’s served 17 terms. In February of 2011, he was honored for his role in the civil rights movement by former President Barack Obama who presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Lewis was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after undergoing a routine medical visit in December. At the time, the member of the House Ways and Means Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight said he would receive treatment in Washington, D.C.
“I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” Lewis said in a statement at the time. “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,” he continued. “So I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the Beloved Community. We still have many bridges to cross.”
Lewis is survived by his adopted son, John Miles Lewis.