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Leaders react to passing of Alabama native John Lewis

Below are several reactions from leaders about the passing of Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis. (LORI SHAULL)

Alabama native turned Civil Rights Movement leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis has died. Lewis grew up on a farm outside of Troy, where his family were sharecroppers. At 21, he became a Freedom Rider. At 23, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. He was a close colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement. King affectionately referred to him as “the boy from Troy.”

Lewis and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Hosea Williams organized the first Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. Then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace ordered the then all-white Alabama State Troopers to stop Lewis and about 600 marchers. On March 7, 1965, the State Troopers, local law enforcement and hundreds of white citizen volunteers attacked Lewis and the other voting rights marchers when they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Below are some reactions to Lewis’s passing.

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones

“While this news is nothing short of heart-breaking, the pain we all feel at this loss is evident of the deep love, appreciation, and respect we have for John Lewis. As a son of Troy, Alabama, he loved our country with all of his heart and set out to make it a stronger, more democratic, more equal, more just nation for every person. To persevere toward that end in the face of the hate and violence he so often faced is a testament to his strength of both character and heart. John was a dear friend to my wife Louise and me, and we are both profoundly grateful to have had him in our lives. John’s life has long represented an unbroken thread from a painful past to a more hopeful future. He gave us all a reason to hope. More importantly, he gave us the courage to pursue the bright future we all want for our children. As we begin to grapple with a world without him, we must face the challenges of this moment with the same grit and perseverance he embodied. We are charged with picking up the torch and continuing the fight for justice and equality that was his life’s work. John was called the ‘conscience of Congress.’ May the conscience of all in Congress and the Senate be awakened by his passing to finish John’s efforts to restore integrity to the Voting Rights Act. John often encouraged getting into a little ‘good trouble for a righteous cause’ and he pursued the cause of racial justice with love, and as a uniter, not a divider. He taught me that heroes walk among us, and that true heroes are those that bring us together. We lost a true American hero today.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey

“Our country has lost one of its most beloved Civil Rights leaders. I join my fellow Alabamians & the nation in mourning the death of Rep. John Lewis. He dedicated his life to serving his community & advocating for others. We’ll forever remember his heroism & his enduring legacy.”

Congresswoman Terri Sewell

“My heart breaks for the passing of my dear friend and mentor Congressman John Lewis, but my spirit soars for an angel walked among us and we were all touched by his greatness. He forever changed Selma and this nation. May we finish his life’s work and restore the Voting Rights Act. Congressman John Lewis was a beacon of light, hope and inspiration throughout his life. To be in his presence was to experience love, whole-hearted and without exception. Though he was so often met with hatred, violence and racial terrorism, it never permeated his being. He remained until his passing a faithful servant-leader, whose righteousness, kindness and vision for a more equitable future inspired all who were blessed to know him. I am honored to have been able to call him a mentor and colleague and, above all, a friend. On Bloody Sunday in 1965, John was confronted by Alabama state troopers and their dogs, but he was determined to fight for equality and justice, putting his own life on the line in the service of others and a vision for a brighter future. So many times did John cross bridges, insisting that our nation live up to the promises enshrined in our constitution. As he always said, he gave a little blood on Selma bridge, but he also bridged the gaps that so often divide our political parties, working every day for a more just America. John believed firmly that the best days of our nation lie ahead of us. It is his unwavering optimism that I will continue to call upon in moments of challenge and hardship. While John has left this earth, his legacy fighting for equality and justice lives on. I hope that our nation – and our leaders – will unite behind the cause most dear to John: voting rights. We must restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to its full strength so that every American – regardless of color – is able to make their voice heard at the ballot box. John, the ‘boy from Troy,’ was the conscience of the Congress. He will be dearly missed.”

Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels

“Last night,this heaviness of heart could only be lifted by thoughts of the inspiring legacy of a life rooted and lived in public service. Rep. Lewis is a native son, a global giant, and an American hero. As Alabamians, we are only beginning to feel the impact of this great loss.”

Alabama Democratic Party

Rep. John Lewis “is one of the finest men ever to come from our state. Our condolences to his family, friends, and the many whose lives he made better and brighter. ‘Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’ He taught us never to back down from ‘Good Trouble.'”

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill

“Last night, America lost one of her most beloved and courageous heroes, Congressman John Lewis, who leaves behind a legacy of determination, change, and equality. A native of rural Pike County in Southeast Alabama, Congressman John Lewis grew up experiencing firsthand the difficulties and disparities of racism at the time. Recognizing the need for change, John Lewis set out on a journey to achieve equality for all people through his commitment to non-violent social change. Dedicated to both education and activism, he recruited hundreds to make that change happen through sit-ins at lunch counters and by crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where he so bravely led hundreds more than fifty-five years ago during the March from Selma to Montgomery. Teaching others about the movement that unfolded right here in Alabama, Congressman Lewis was one of our greatest civil rights champions! John Lewis‘s legacy serves as a reminder of our past and the long way we have come in this struggle and all we have accomplished! However, we can never forget the work to be done and the long way we have to go. He once said, ‘If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” And those words still ring true today. During our many visits together, he always left me wanting to do more to ensure that every person, regardless of race, religion, gender, or status, had the opportunity to vote in free and fair elections! These conversations are forever ingrained in my memory. I will always cherish his friendship and the example he set for me and everyone that is interested in leaving our community, state, nation, and world better than we found it! His family, friends, colleagues and all people who desire peace, justice, and equality are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

“I don’t know of another leader in this country with the moral standing of Rep. John Lewis. His life and work helped shape the best of our national identity. We revered him not only for his work and sacrifices during the Civil Rights Movement, but because of his unending, stubborn, brilliant determination to press for justice and equality in this country. There was no cynicism in John Lewis; no hint of despair even in the darkest moments. Instead, he showed up relentlessly with commitment and determination – but also love, and joy and unwavering dedication to the principles of non-violence. He spoke up and sat-in and stood on the front lines – and risked it all. This country – every single person in this country – owes a debt of gratitude to John Lewis that we can only begin to repay by following his demand that we do more as citizens. That we ‘get in the way.’ That we ‘speak out when we see injustice’ and that we keep our ‘eyes on the prize.’”

Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center

“With extreme sorrow, the entire SPLC family mourns the passing of Congressman John Lewis. An Alabama native, he was a transformative figure. He was a hero, a man of extraordinary courage and a true American patriot. On May 4, 1961, the Freedom Riders boarded a bus in Washington, D.C., to travel through the Deep South after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia, which found segregation of interstate transportation, including bus terminals, unconstitutional. The future congressman was one of the brave Freedom Riders. When they arrived at Rock Hill, S.C., a few days later, 21-year-old Lewis was assaulted as he attempted to enter a whites-only waiting room. Before their ride ended, Lewis would be arrested in Birmingham and beaten in Montgomery, Alabama. His response to the assaults showed his strength of character and gave us a glimpse of the person he would become. Congressman Lewis was not only a valiant hero combatting Jim Crow, but he was also a leading figure in the movement for racial justice, pushing Congress and presidents to act with moral integrity against all forms of injustice. His dedication to racial equality and justice was unmatched, and we owe a debt of gratitude to his tireless work to achieve full equality. The SPLC will always cherish his support. Together with the American people, we celebrate the life of John Lewis and recommit to his call to get into ‘good trouble, necessary trouble,’ by standing up to injustice. He embodied the best all of us can become. In his own words, ‘You can do it. You must do it. Not just for yourselves but for generations yet unborn.’”

Terry Lathan, Alabama Republican Party Chair

“As history continues to write about John Lewis, it will highlight a warrior who used a bridge as a simple but powerful reminder that all men and women are created equal. His quiet demeanor was overshadowed by his larger than life boldness. His courageous footsteps were heard around the world. I had the honor of meeting Rep. Lewis at the 50th Anniversary of Selma to Montgomery March. We shared that while we differed in parties, as Americans we stood together as brother and sister recognizing that our freedoms are colorblind. No one has control of the color of their skin, but we all have control of our actions. His actions without violence are etched in history as role modeling equality through peace. Rep. Lewis now lovingly marches in God’s army while we are tasked with loving and working together to end racism through our hearts- to listen, learn and love. May we all continue to peacefully change the world with our own steps as we honor the life of John Lewis.”
Staff
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