ATLANTA – Civil rights icon, activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis died at the age of 80 on Friday night after a six-month battle with cancer.
Lewis was the child of sharecroppers and survived a brutal beating by police in the 1965 march of Selma, Alabama.
As a teenager, he joined the civil rights movement after being recruited by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He died at a time when the country is in unrest again over race relations, police and community relations and COVID-19.
A mural honoring Lewis was on display in his congressional district in Atlanta, Georgia, and many came to the mural to pray, show their respects and mourn Lewis.
Bells rang out 80 times in honor of Lewis at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in downtown Atlanta.
The world mourned the death of Lewis, the last living civil rights icon of the “Big Six” with King during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
“As dad inspired him (he) inspires me and millions of people around our world,” said Martin Luther King III. “Particularly as we approach one of the most important elections in the history, I think, of our nation.”
The world first began to learn of Lewis after a bloody attack on a Selma, Alabama bridge.
Lewis recently flashed back to that day saying on Twitter.
“55 years ago today, we were beaten, tear gassed, and trampled by horses,” he said on Twitter. “I thought I saw death. I thought I was going to die. I don’t know how I made it back, but I know we cannot rest. We cannot become weary. We must keep pushing and pulling and find a way to get in the way.”
In his death, there is a petition to rename that same Selma bridge in honor of Lewis.
A memorial for the beloved congressman continues to grow at his mural in Atlanta.
“The movement lost an icon, and I lost a personal friend,” said Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina. “He was the kind of civil rights activist that didn’t just speak against injustice, he risked his life to fight against injustice.
Lewis posted a photo of himself on Twitter from 59 years ago.
“59 years ago today, I was released from Parchman Farm Penitentiary after being arrested in Jackson, MS for using a so-called “white” restroom during the Freedom Rides of 1961,” he said.
He stayed active in pursuing rights for all people especially minorities for decades.
President Donald Trump said he was “saddened” by the loss of Lewis.
Former President Barack Obama said, “His election as the first black president was possible because of the sacrifices Lewis made.”
And of the Big Six - one of them has ties to Jacksonville - A. Phillip Randolph. The others are James Farmer, John Lewis, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and King.