John Lewis Dead: GA Congressman & Civil Rights Icon Dies At 80

Congressman John Lewis is dead at 80 after a long battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The Civil Rights legend's death has left Washington and so many people who admired him shattered.

John Lewis
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Image Credit: AP Images

Representative John Lewis has died at the age of 80. The Democratic congressman from Georgia passed away on July 17, 2020 after announcing he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in December 2019. The Civil Rights pioneer once said, “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” John had been doing that since the 1960s as a leader in the Civil Rights movement, all the way to his death as a prominent United States congressman.

The NAACP tweeted, “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.”

While announcing his diagnosis in December, Lewis also promised to continue working in Washington while enduring treatment for the aggressive illness. Lewis, a civil rights icon, wrote in a press release that, “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 at the time that he was “clear-eyed about his prognosis,” but hopeful that doctors could treat him successfully.

John Lewis
U.S. Rep. John Lewis D-GA speaks before a committee in Dec. 2019. Sadly, he was diagnosed pancreatic cancer later that month. Photo credit: AP Images.

“To my constituents: being your representative in Congress is the honor of a lifetime,” Lewis wrote. “I will return to Washington in coming days to continue our work and begin my treatment plan, which will occur over the next several weeks. I may miss a few votes during this period, but with God’s grace I will be back on the front lines soon.” As of July 2020, Lewis had been casting votes by proxy while working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Lewis, once referred to as the “conscious of Congress,” came to prominence in the 1960s as the founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was one of the original Freedom Riders, and one of the “Big Six” organizers, alongside Martin Luther King Jr., of the historic March on Washington, where he delivered a national address. He worked to register black voters and as brutalized at the hands of police; an officer cracked his skull during the 1965 Bloody Sunday march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Lewis was arrested 45 times for his activism work, including in October 2013, during a Camino Americano rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC as he and others protested for Congress to act on a comprehensive immigration bill. Five of his total arrests came while he was a sitting Congressman. Lewis continued to encourage all young people to “get in good trouble” like he did until his dying day.

President Jimmy Carter, now 93, appointed Lewis to lead a federal volunteer agency in the 1960s, which led to him entering politics, first as a city council member in Atlanta. Lewis became the Democratic representative to Georgia in 1987, and served until his death; he had been the Chief Deputy Whip since 1991, and Senior Chief Deputy Whip since 2003.

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