We lost a hero in 2020. We lost a champion for civil and human rights. On July 17, 2020, we lost US Congressman John Lewis .
John Robert Lewis was born outside of Troy, Alabama, on February 21, 1940. Lewis had a happy childhood but he railed against the unfairness of segregation. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons and news of the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott, Lewis was empowered to act for the changes he wanted to see.
In 1957, Lewis attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee. There, he learned about nonviolent protest and helped to organize sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. He was arrested during these demonstrations, which upset his mother, but Lewis was committed to the civil rights movement.
Lewis was a Freedom Rider, helped plan and was the youngest speaker at the 1963’s March on Washington, where he declared, “We all recognize the fact that if any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about.
After the March on Washington, in 1964, the Civil Rights Act became law. However, this did not make it easier for African Americans to vote in the South. To bring attention to this struggle, Lewis and Hosea Williams led a march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, on March 7, 1965. After crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers were attacked by state troopers and Lewis was severely beaten.
Lewis was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986 representing Georgia’s 5th District, He was one of the most respected members of Congress and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. He called for healthcare reform, measures to fight poverty and improvements in education. Most importantly, he oversaw multiple renewals of the Voting Rights Act. When the Supreme Court struck down part of the law in 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder, Lewis decried the decision as a “dagger into the heart” of voting rights.
May we follow his example and commit ourselves to the creation of the Beloved Community he dedicated his life to building.