MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis died yesterday after a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer.
His passing has hit the nation hard, at a time when black lives are once again at the forefront.
Often called the conscience of the Congress, John Lewis was known for his stoic presence.
But when he spoke…”We still have a dream. We still have a dream.”
Born on a sharecropper farm in Troy, Alabama, Lewis became one of the original 13 Freedom Riders.
First arrested for what he called ‘good trouble’ in 1961, Lewis served time at Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm Prison after using a ‘whites only’ in Jackson.
“Black Lives Matter is something he’s been fighting, without saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ since he was in his twenties,” said Faith Morris, National Civil Rights Museum Chief Marketing Officer.
He was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963.
But what pushed Lewis to the forefront of the movement, and Morris said, earned him prominent accolades at the National Civil Rights Museum, though, was his part in Bloody Sunday.
Lewis and dozens of other activists marched across Montgomery’s Edmund Pettus Bridge into the ranks of the Alabama State Patrol, waiting with tear gas, batons, and dogs.
He left Alabama with a fractured skull.
“He never tired of talking about what was wrong and trying to right those wrongs,” Morris said.
And his activism didn’t stop there.
Lewis was elected an Atlanta City Councilman in 1981 and served in Congress since 1986.
Congressman Lewis visited the National Civil Rights Museum on several occasions: once, in 2004, when he was honored with a Freedom Award, and twice in 2018 at events centered around MLK50.
Morris said Lewis is an integral part of the National Civil Rights Museum.
Love Collins said he’s known Lewis for over 30 years and in the time he’s served as Lewis’ chair of transition committee and service academy selection board, he said the lessons he’s gained during this time sticks with him to this day.
“I was crossing Marietta street. John was crossing. It’s about 9 o’clock in the morning. I’m going to get coffee. I don’t know where he was going,” said Collins.
Collins was 32-years-old when a chance encounter in Atlanta with representative John Lewis changed the direction of his life.
Before Collins knew it, he was sitting in meetings mapping out Lewis’ plan to run for congress.
Lewis would go on to serve 17 terms.
Collins said his son shared the news of Lewis’ death Friday night.
“Somebody asked me, they said so how do you feel about what’s your greatest feeling with John now gone? I think the thing that hurts the most is what he would have been able to accomplish had he been alive for more year,” he said.
Lewis’ death has touched people all over the country, speaking to his work as a civil rights leader.
Collins said he had the rare opportunity to hear stories of Lewis’ moments fighting for equality alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
With the current resurgence in the fight, Collins said Lewis would be encouraged with the direction the movement is headed.
“I think he would say that he thinks that America is reaching another turning point,” Collins said. “Because to get to where we need to be, the promised line, it’s going to be incremental but it’s got to remain progressive.”
Having known Lewis for over 30 years, Collins said it’s clear why his legacy is being celebrated today.
Collins said one thing he’s gained from his relationship with Lewis is the realization of what truly will have an impact on people.
“It’ll be because of how you’ve impacted the life of somebody else,” he told FOX13. “Ninety nine percent of the time. So, when you wake up everybody that should be your priority.”
From inspiration to fight for justice as a teen to his final days, Collins said Lewis stayed true to this.
“Fifteen, okay. And he’s passing away at 80. So, 15 and 80. He never stopped the race,” he said.
They’ve honored his legacy since their doors opened in 1991 and will continue to do so for decades to come, inspiring the next generation of activists looking for ‘good trouble.’
That, she said, should be the legacy of Congressman Lewis.
“He didn’t ask you to be Dr. King, he didn’t ask you to be him,” Morris said. “He didn’t expect that. He just expected you to do something. Folks around him really felt that charge, that they needed to do something. Now they feel they need to do something even more.”
Morris said it’s time to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in memoriam of John Lewis.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has also ordered flags to be flown at half staff at the state capitol.
Cox Media Group