Somewhere it’s raining. Somewhere the heavens have opened up, reflecting the tears which continue to fall across the globe as news of the death of civil rights icon John Lewis reverberates.
The congressional genius and justice warrior, famously beaten and bloodied at Selma and across the Jim Crow South in the mighty battle for racial equality, was 80.
His death came just hours after another civil rights warrior, the Rev. C.T. Vivian, died at the age of 95.
Dr. Benjamin Chavis, National Newspaper Publishers Association President/CEO and comrade in arms with both Vivian and Lewis, expressed the devastation of losing two revered giants.
Chavis, who like Vivian and Lewis, worked with and was a disciple of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said the world would miss the “good trouble,” for which Lewis will forever be known.
“The Honorable John Lewis was a longtime master freedom fighter who set the eternal example of how and why we all should fight for the freedom and equality of all humanity,” Chavis said.
“May Lewis now have his rest in peace while we who worked and marched with him must now keep on fighting for freedom and equality with renewed vigor, courage and energy. Black Lives Matter.”
As he’d done earlier to honor Vivian, former president Barack Obama expressed his sorrow.
“John Lewis – one of the original Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of Georgia for 33 years – not only assumed that responsibility, he made it his life’s work,” Obama observed.
“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”
The former president recalled his last meeting with Lewis.
“It’s fitting that the last time John and I shared a public forum was at a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists who were helping to lead this summer’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death,” he said. “Afterward, I spoke to him privately.”
“He could not have been prouder of their efforts – of a new generation standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation intent on voting and protecting the right to vote, a new generation running for political office.”
“I told him that all those young people – of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation – they were his children. They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books,” he said.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who served more than three decades on Congress with Lewis, declared Lewis’ death as one of the saddest days in American history.
“He dedicated his entire life to what became his signature mantra, making ‘good trouble.’ Despite being one of the youngest leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, John Lewis galvanized and inspired hundreds of his peers to join in the fight for equal rights,” Waters said.
“Very few people could have been harassed, arrested more than 40 times, beaten within inches of their lives, and still espouse Dr. King’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of nonviolence, peace and love. However, these principles were core philosophies to John Lewis and our nation is forever indebted to him for his humble sacrifices,” she said.
Lewis routinely credited King and Rosa Parks for inspiring his activism, which he famously called “good trouble, necessary trouble.” He also referred to his participation in the Civil Rights Movement as a “holy crusade.”
At the 2020 NNPA Virtual Convention earlier this month, visitors enjoyed a screening of the newly-released documentary, “John Lewis: Good Trouble.”
Lewis joined a Freedom Ride in 1961, organized by the Congress of Racial Equality [CORE]. He suffered one of many beatings at the hands of authorities when he and other CORE members attempted to enter a whites-only waiting room at a bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
“If there was anything I learned on that long, bloody bus trip of 1961,” he wrote in his memoir, “it was this — that we were in for a long, bloody fight here in the American South. And I intended to stay in the middle of it.”
Lewis counted as the last surviving speaker of the famed 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The world will also remember Lewis for leading hundreds of people in one of the most famous demonstrations for civil rights ever – Bloody Sunday.
On March 7, 1965, as Lewis and others journey across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, a mob of state troopers dressed in riot gear attacked. The authorities began their assault on Lewis and the marchers using tear gas before brutally assaulting them with bullwhips and rubber tubing that had been wrapped in barbed wire.
One of the officers attacked Lewis with a nightstick, fracturing his skull and knocking him to the ground.
In the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, Lewis praised today’s generation of freedom fighters.
“This feels and looks so different,” he said of the Black Lives Matter movement and the demonstrations that continue. “It is so much more massive and all-inclusive. There will be no turning back.”
Lewis announced late last year that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. However, the stalwart warrior refused to quit the struggle.
“I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said upon disclosing his health challenge.