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U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007. Lewis, who carried the struggle against racial discrimination from Southern battlegrounds of the 1960s to the halls of Congress, died Friday, July 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson, File)
The Skanner News and the Associated Press
Published: 19 July 2020

Former President Barack Obama, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, former The Skanner reporter Patrick Mazza and Black Lives Matter activists from around the country are among those who are paying tribute to Rep. John Lewis who died Friday at the age of 80. Some people, including Caroline Williams, a descendant of Edmund Pettus, have called for the Edmund Pettus Bridge to be renamed after Lewis as a fitting recognition of his contribution.

President Obama released this statement:

"America is a constant work in progress. What gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further — to speak out for what’s right, to challenge an unjust status quo, and to imagine a better world.



"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.

"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. 



"Considering his enormous impact on the history of this country, what always struck those who met John was his gentleness and humility.

"Born into modest means in the heart of the Jim Crow South, he understood that he was just one of a long line of heroes in the struggle for racial justice.

"Early on, he embraced the principles of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as the means to bring about real change in this country, understanding that such tactics had the power not only to change laws, but to change hearts and minds as well.



"In so many ways, John’s life was exceptional. But he never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country might do.

"He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, a longing to do what’s right, a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect. And it’s because he saw the best in all of us that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in that long journey towards a more perfect union.

"

I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders.

"When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made.

"And through all those years, he never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement to me and Michelle and our family.

"We will miss him dearly.

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.

"Afterwards, I spoke to him privately, and 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.

"

Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise."

Oregon Governor Kate Brown

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said:

"We lost a legend tonight. Congressman John Lewis exuded justice and equality for all. He was the heart & soul of the civil rights movement. In times of darkness, he reminded us to get into that good trouble and carry on the fight. Now more than ever, we carry his fight with us."

Reporter Patrick Mazza

Former Skanner reporter, Patrick Mazza, who worked for The Skanner early in his career before moving into environmental journalism said:

"With the passing of John Lewis, and all that is going on in the streets now, I am moved to do something I have been meaning to do for some time, thank you for giving me an opportunity to work at The Skanner 30 years ago. It provided an opportunity to meet the great man when he came out to an event in Portland - I think it was a Skanner event - and to gain insights on the African-American community that I don’t believe a whole lot of white people have. And maybe by good reporting to do a small part to help the community.

"Whenever I go down to Portland and see those MLK Jr. Blvd. signs, I am grateful to have made a small contribution to helping you make that happen. Again, thank you.  I hope what is taking place now can begin to right the many historic injustices suffered by Black people."

Black Lives Matter leaders

John Lewis also left an indelible impact on young people. From student activist to elder statesman, he continually encouraged the nation's youth to start “good trouble” — and modeled just how to do that.

He was arrested alongside millennial activists pushing for comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration laws in 2013. He led a sit-in in the House of Representatives over gun control following a mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando in 2016. And in one of his last public appearances, he posed for a picture in June, standing on the Black Lives Matter Plaza mural painted just outside of the White House amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd. 

For the Black Lives Matter generation, the connection to Lewis is deeper than many may realize. As a young man, through clouds of teargas and a hail of billy clubs, Lewis nearly lost his life marching against segregation and for voting rights. As a Georgia congressman, Lewis was generous with his time, taking meetings and sharing stages with activists who, from Sanford, Florida, to Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore to Minneapolis, also withstood teargas — as well as rubber bullets, pepper spray and arrests — in their own protests against racism.

“He didn’t have to stand with us, he chose to," Malkia Devich Cyril, the founder and senior fellow of MediaJustice, which advocates for open and democratic media and technology platforms, told The Associated Press. "That’s real leadership.”

Brittany Packnett Cunningham

Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Ferguson activist and educator said:

“I remember sitting on the other side of President Obama from (Lewis) at this pretty historic, multigenerational civil rights meeting, and understanding the optical placement of the generations in that moment. And I just kept thinking to myself, do not let John Lewis down. … I was finally able to thank him, face to face, eye to eye, for treading the path my generation was now walking. … With kindness in his eyes and determination in his voice, he reminded me that the road to freedom is never easy — and that’s precisely why we have to keep taking it. ‘You’ll have setbacks,’ he told me. ‘Keep going. Be consistent. You will get there.’”

Phillip Agnew

Phillip Agnew, co-founder of the Dream Defenders, a police and prison abolition group, and organizer in the Movement for Black Lives said:

“I think the first time I ever met him was at (Congressional Black Caucus Foundation), the legislative forum that they have every year. This is kind of after Dream Defenders had taken over the Capitol of Florida, and there was a big buzz about our little fledgling group at that time. I didn’t think that he would know who I was — I absolutely knew who he was. … And I remember him coming and speaking to me and saying how proud he was, looking at the things that we had done in Florida.”

Patrisse Cullors

Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and its global network of chapters:

“The first time I was introduced to Congressman Lewis was through (the 1990 PBS docuseries) ‘Eyes on the Prize.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s me.’ He was a young, radical Black man who was challenging not just the status quo in government, but also the older leadership in the movement. And I felt really moved by him. … What I witnessed significantly in ‘Eyes on the Prize’ was police terror and police brutality, and the way that it was used against the (Edmund) Pettus Bridge protesters … who were brutalized fighting for a more equitable America, for Black people in particular. And so, we fast forward to 2020, when we have been in the streets, and the same tactics of the police being used against us as a way to deter us from fighting for Black freedom. And yet, that never deterred Congressman Lewis. ... That is a deeply moving commitment to Black people.”

Alencia Johnson

Alencia Johnson, political strategist:

“I had the opportunity to staff (former Democratic presidential candidate) Sen. Elizabeth Warren, when we did the Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing, the Sunday before Super Tuesday, when I was working on her campaign. And (Lewis) came. It was like he was literally passing the torch to everyone who was there. ... That symbol of him coming from his sick bed, all the way to Selma was just so, wow, I’m actually getting emotional thinking about that. … He was so intentional and persistent about ensuring that people who are fighting know that they have his support and his admiration. He talked about how he admires how young people are showing up now.”

Ash-lee Woodard Henderson

Ash-lee Woodard Henderson, co-executive director of the Highlander Center for Research and Education, a social justice leadership training school:

“I’ve been thinking about how important John Lewis’ life has been and will continue to be for weeks. And this moment still feels so freaking unfair. ... I remember the stories and encouragement. The never-wavering mandate. … I will remember a man who reminded us all that our optimism isn’t futile. That building a global neighborhood and a building beloved community are similar but not the same. … That’s the legacy. That’s the work. I’m so grateful, in this sea of grief, for such a divine human who loved us so deeply.”

Charlene Carruthers

Charlene Carruthers, founding national director of BYP100, a Black youth organizing group, and Movement for Black Lives organizer:

“Looking at his work and his story, if I can even do half of that with my life then I’d consider it a worthy contribution. And it’s not about being perfect. But it is about saying, ‘I’m going to be in this for my entire life.’ I’m in this thing. Not for fame, not for glory. He could have done something else. His legacy is one of making a lifetime commitment to Black people.”

Chelsea Fuller

Chelsea Fuller, spokesperson for the Movement for Black Lives and deputy communications director for Blackbird, which supports grassroots movements:

“In 2000, I was 12 years old and, like most children that age, struggling to comprehend the possibilities of who I could become. … He asked me if I liked school and what I wanted to do when I was all grown up.

"I told him I didn’t know, but that I liked to write and that I liked Black history, but didn’t think there was much I could do outside of being a professor. He took my hand and looked me square in the eye and said that loving my people and being a storyteller were not small things; but that they were powerful. … Congressman John Lewis encouraged me to see the power in stories about our people and our fight for freedom.”

Center for Responsible Lending

Nikitra Bailey, executive vice president for the Center for Responsible Lending, said:

“We are heartbroken by the passing of Congressman John Lewis. His steadfast leadership and immeasurable contribution to the civil rights movement’s fight for freedom and justice changed the course of our nation’s history.

"He was the son of sharecroppers who became a devoted public servant continuing to push America towards her ideals along the way. He truly embodied what it means to be an American hero and was the moral conscience of Congress and our nation.

"As one of the earliest and strongest champions against abusive subprime mortgages and predatory lending practices, redlining, and housing discrimination, he worked to ensure that future generations were not locked out of America’s promise.

"His legacy is a shining example of what public service ought to be—a fighter for peace, justice, equality, and freedom.

"Our country is better because of John Lewis. The Center for Responsible Lending offers its collective comfort and condolences to his family, friends, staff, and the city of Atlanta.”

Farhana Khera

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, said on the passing of Congressman John Lewis:

“When the newly-enacted muslim ban was sowing chaos and fear in the Muslim community, John Lewis went to Atlanta’s airport to demand answers. When immigration officials refused to tell him how many people were being detained, he calmly said ‘why don’t we just sit down and stay a while.’

"John Lewis showed up for my community because that was what he always did wherever he saw an injustice. He was a civil rights icon because he always led with fearless courage and determination—a model for all of us and our nation’s moral conscience.

"We must carry his legacy forward by continuing to show up, making ‘good trouble’ and fighting bigotry wherever it exists.”

Southern Poverty Law Center

Lecia Brooks, SPLC Chief of Staff said:

"News of the passing of Congressman John Lewis hit me hard. I have never met a more extraordinarily kind and generous man. He was a true testament to the goodness to be found in each of us. I never grew tired of hearing him tell his story.

"Congressman Lewis grew up just outside of Troy, Alabama, not far from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s headquarters in Montgomery. He was a wonderful storyteller, in the tradition of Black family stories of struggle and triumph. And he was funny. I’ve heard the congressman’s story of “preaching to the chickens” dozens of times, and each time, I could see a young John Lewis preaching to the family chickens as he dreamed of becoming a minister one day.

"But I and others who heard the story saw much more. We saw his deep love for all of humanity. And we saw his steadfast belief in the inherent value of all living things, as well as the need to speak up in acknowledgment and defense of justice.

"Congressman Lewis came to be known as the 'conscience of the Congress.'

"Lord knows he tried to be. Most years, he led a bipartisan delegation of House and Senate members on a civil rights pilgrimage sponsored by The Faith and Politics Institute that brought him to Montgomery and the SPLC’s Civil Rights Memorial. Needless to say, it was a visit my colleagues and I looked forward to each year. We’d wait breathlessly to see him, always flanked by children as he approached the memorial to lay a wreath with them – not in honor of himself, but to thank and acknowledge those whose lives were taken in the long march toward justice.  

"Though he often talked about the beatings he endured during the civil rights movement, he was the first to acknowledge the sacrifices made by so many others that made it possible for him to keep telling his story in the hope of inspiring people to join him and continue advancing the cause of justice. 

"I’d look at the rings of people surrounding the memorial to listen to him. I always hoped they would not only hear his message, but take it to heart and act when they returned to the halls of Congress. Though I may have been disappointed by the subsequent actions or inaction of those listening, Congressman Lewis never stopped believing.

"During one of the pilgrimages, I remember the then-Montgomery police chief made a public apology to the congressman on behalf of the police department for its complicity in the beatings Lewis and other Freedom Riders survived. Ever full of grace, he accepted the apology and embraced the white police chief. It was an incredible act of reconciliation, and yet so like the congressman.

"He didn’t have the time – nor the inclination – to nurse old wounds. We needed him and his moral leadership. And he was always there, ready to lead with the clarity and courage that is too often lacking in today’s public officials. Who else but Congressman Lewis would hold a sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for gun control legislation?  Who else but Congressman Lewis would consistently speak out in support of Black and Indigenous People, LGBTQ people, immigrants, the poor?

"He never disappointed. Not once.

"I remember how everyone wanted to touch a living legend, so he was constantly besieged by people who wanted to take a picture with him. I was one of them. Many in his position would have lost patience with the endless requests, but not Congressman Lewis. I think he was patient because he assumed that the people wanting to get close to him were saying that they were committed to fight for justice and he wanted to acknowledge their commitments.

"When I look at my picture with him today, I am humbled by the fact that such a great man was willing to take a moment with me.

"I hope I never let him down by letting my commitment waver. 

"It’s a commitment that has become even more important for us to keep after losing both John Lewis and the Rev. C.T. Vivian – two legends of the civil rights movement – on the very same day.

"The congressman is preaching to the angels now, but his words will continue to reverberate through us. May we pledge to follow his lead and the “sermon” he spent a lifetime preaching: 'When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, to say something.'"

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