He was a monumental figure in the Democratic Party and in American politics, where his mere image brought to mind the memory of Martin Luther King’s struggle. Lewis’s death was confirmed by the Democratic leader in Congress, Nancy Pelosi.
Lewis was one of the last survivors of the inner circle of Martin Luther King and the group of activists who laid the foundations for the civil rights movement. As a student leader, he participated in dozens of actions in the early 1960s for racial equality in the segregated South.
He was part of the group of activists who in 1965 decided to organize a peaceful march from Selma, Alabama, to the capital, Montgomery, to protest the impediments the state was putting to registering African Americans as voters. That March 7 would go down in history as bloody Sunday.
The brutal crackdown by the Alabama police was caught on television, and the images overwhelmed the country. John Lewis suffered a skull fracture from a thud.
Two weeks later, they repeated the march, this time with 2,000 people, all the press in the country and the Rev. King in front. In August of that year, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in the registration process to vote.
The image of Lewis in a raincoat, kneeling on the ground and being beaten in a peaceful demonstration forever cemented his stature as a symbol of the fight for equal rights. I was 25 years old.
John Lewis was the boy of Alabama sharecroppers. He grew up on the farm where his parents worked in the 1940s, in the southern Jim Crow laws, where the physical separation of blacks and whites and the oppression of the descendants of slaves was done by law.
He went to segregated school and was unable to enter public libraries. At age 20, he became involved in the civil rights movement inspired by the Rev. King, of whom he would become one of the closest confidants.
Lewis was among the first of the so-called freedom riders, activists who got on segregated line buses and sat in the seats of whites. He was beaten and arrested dozens of times.
In 1963, he was already a recognized national leader of the movement and was among the organizers of the March on Washington. That day, when King delivered the I have a dream speech, Lewis was the youngest leader to speak from the rostrum.
Lewis continued to campaign for voter registration, and in the 1980s he held a position as a councilman in Atlanta, Georgia. He won his seat as a congressman for the southern state in the 1986 elections and held it for 17 legislatures, until his death.
He never stopped being an activist. In recent years, he continued to participate in protests against the Donald Trump government’s treatment of immigrants at the border or in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement he said was once and a later in the fight for equality.
“I’ve been involved in some kind of fight all my life, for freedom, for equality, or for basic human rights,” he said when he announced that he had cancer and was at the end of his life.
The Trump presidency was from the start a kind of final test for Lewis. The congressman provoked Trump’s anger when he openly said that he did not consider him a legitimate president, due to doubts about the participation of Russian cyberspies who helped Trump in the 2016 election. Lewis said he would not go to the inauguration.
Trump personally disqualified Lewis, perhaps without knowing the enormous moral predicament that he was dragging in Congress. As a consequence, more than 50 Democratic congressmen boycotted the inauguration in solidarity with Lewis.
The entire political class of the United States recalled this Friday night the legacy that John Lewis leaves, mainly through Twitter messages and communications. “He was a titan of the civil rights movement whose kindness, faith, and courage transformed our nation,” wrote Democratic leader in Congress Nancy Pelosi. “Every day of his life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to everyone.”
The leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, published a statement in which he stated that “Lewis’s place among the giants of United States history was already assured before beginning his career in Congress (…) Our nation will nevermore forget this American star.
Donald Trump’s Twitter account was silent for 18 hours. The White House press chief published a tweet saying Lewis “leaves a lasting legacy that will never be forgotten.” The White House ordered to put the flags at half-mast in honour of the congressman.
Trump spent the morning at one of his golf clubs. Finally, he wrote a message at 2:05 pm from Washington: “Saddened by the news of the death of civil rights hero John Lewis. Melania and I send our prayers to him and his family. “
“When you see something that is not right, that is not fair, that is not legitimate, you have a moral obligation to do something, say something and not remain silent,”
He said when he announced that he would not go to the inauguration, evoking the words by Martin Luther King. Last December, when Congress voted Trump’s impeachment, he repeated those same words. What did you tell?’ This vote will be difficult for some. the right side of history.”
During a speech to graduates of Bates University in 2016, he recalled his encounter with Martin Luther King and how it impacted him. “It inspired me to get in trouble, to put myself in the middle of things.”
So she said to the students: “You must find a way to put yourself in the middle and get into good problems, necessary problems… When you leave here you have a moral obligation, a mission, and a mandate, to go out and seek justice You can do it. You must do it”.