The 'Conscience of Congress' Has Died

Congressman John Lewis, a giant in the civil rights movement, is gone at age 80 after cancer battle
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 18, 2020 5:28 AM CDT
'Titan of Civil Rights Movement' John Lewis Dead at 80
In this Jan. 3, 2019, file photo, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., waves during the swearing-in ceremony for Congressional Black Caucus members of the 116th Congress in Washington.   (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

John Lewis, the son of Alabama sharecroppers who became a giant in the civil rights movement, was arrested dozens of times in his fight for racial and social justice, and served 33 years in Congress, has died at the age of 80. The AP reports that Lewis' death was confirmed in a Friday night statement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Per USA Today, Lewis, who was often called "the conscience of Congress," had been suffering from late-stage pancreatic cancer since December. Images of Lewis being beaten by state troopers in Selma, Ala., as he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge with other civil rights advocates on March 7, 1965 (aka "Bloody Sunday"), a violent incident that left him bloodied and with a fractured skull, moved the nation and spurred support for the Voting Rights Act, per the New York Times.

After his turn as a community activist, Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986, becoming only the second African American from Georgia to make it to Congress since Reconstruction. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 2011 from President Barack Obama, who said that "generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind." During his time in Congress, Lewis was known for his advocacy of voting rights. One of his most famous pieces of advice: "Get into trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble." In her statement on Lewis' death, Pelosi hailed him as "one of the greatest heroes of American history" on Friday. "John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith, and bravery transformed our nation," she said. Much more on his life here. (More John Lewis stories.)

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