The civil rights activist and long-time Member of Congress died yesterday of complications from pancreatic cancer:
On the front lines of the bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, with blows to his body and a fractured skull to prove it, Mr. Lewis was a valiant stalwart of the civil rights movement and the last surviving speaker at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
More than a half-century later, after the killing in May of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis, Mr. Lewis welcomed the resulting global demonstrations against systemic racism and the police killings of Black people. He saw those demonstrations, the largest protest movement in American history, as a continuation of his life’s work, though his illness had left him to watch from the sideline.
Mr. Lewis’s personal history paralleled that of the civil rights movement. He was among the original 13 Freedom Riders, the Black and white activists who challenged segregated interstate travel in the South in 1961. He was a founder and early leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which coordinated lunch-counter sit-ins. He helped organize the March on Washington, where the main speaker on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mr. Lewis led demonstrations against racially segregated restrooms, hotels, restaurants, public parks and swimming pools, and he rose up against other indignities of second-class citizenship. At nearly every turn, he was beaten, spat upon or burned with cigarettes. He was tormented by shrieking white mobs and absorbed body blows from law enforcement.
On March 7, 1965, he led one of the most famous marches in American history. In the vanguard of 600 people demanding the voting rights they had been denied, Mr. Lewis marched partway across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., into a waiting phalanx of state troopers in riot gear.
Lewis represented Georgia's 5th district from 1987 until his death yesterday.