Civil Rights Icon John Lewis succumbs to his battle with cancer at age 80. Lewis was an American civil rights leader and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he was the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district from 1987 until his death in 2020 and the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. The district he served includes the northern three-fourths of Atlanta.
Some of his many important roles in the Civil Rights movement was that he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was one of the “Big Six” leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington, played many key roles in the civil rights movement and its actions to end legalized racial segregation in the United States. Later, he became a leader of the Democratic Party in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1991 until his death as a Chief Deputy Whip and Senior Chief Deputy Whip from 2003 to his death.
Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders, who trekked across the South in a bus ride to desegregate public transportation and accommodation and, along with a dozen others, were met by angry mobs. He was assaulted a number of times, including a beating in a Greyhound bus station in Montgomery where he was hit in the head and knocked unconscious.
In an interview with CNN during the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Lewis recounted the sheer amount of violence he and the 12 other original Freedom Riders endured. In Birmingham, the Riders were beaten with baseball bats, chains, lead pipes and stones. They were arrested by police who led them across the border into Tennessee and let them go. They reorganized and rode to Montgomery where they were met with more violence. and Lewis was hit in the head with a wooden crate. “It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious,” said Lewis, remembering the incident. When CORE gave up on the Freedom Ride because of the violence, Lewis and fellow activist Diane Nash arranged for the Nashville students to take it over and bring it to a successful conclusion.
Lewis’s 1998 autobiography Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, co-written with Mike D’Orso, won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. It appeared on numerous bestseller lists, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, was named by the American Library Association as its Nonfiction Book of the Year, His life is also the subject of a 2002 book for young people, John Lewis: From Freedom Rider to Congressman. In 2012, Lewis released Across That Bridge, written with Brenda Jones, to mixed reviews. Publishers Weekly’s review said, “At its best, the book provides a testament to the power of nonviolence in social movements… At its worst, it resembles an extended campaign speech.
The impact made by Lewis will be felt for many years to come.