What does it mean, to be a hero? Georgia representative John Lewis never called himself such a thing. The Civil Rights legend had walked with history, but always remained extremely humble. Lewis died on July 17th after battling stage-four pancreatic cancer for months. However, in life, Lewis fought against the worst of humanity, and remained a shining example of what America could be.
According to a detailed timeline by the Associated Press, Lewis first got his start in activism in 1959. He participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961. He would be arrested a few days after helping Martin Luther King organize the March on Washington in 1963. Lewis had accomplished all of these feats before the age of 25. In 1965 Lewis participated in several marches from Selma to Montgomery and was nearly beaten to death by Selma police in an event now known as “Bloody Sunday.” Many of the protestors, including Lewis, were beaten bloody that day on the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they faced a blockade of police that attacked the nonviolent protestors when they refused to disperse.
There has been increased interest in renaming the bridge after Lewis, which would be a great way to never forget what happened at the site, as well as reclaiming the name from a Confederate general/Klan leader (Pettus.) Renaming the bridge in honor of John Lewis would be a fantastic and inspiring move, particularly in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests across the country.
One of the major points of the historic marches from Selma to Montgomery were to help register Black voters in the South. According to a Stanford University study, the nationwide outrage over the event was one of then President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inspiration for signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. Lewis was present at the signing, along with Martin Luther King Jr.
Sadly, Lewis spent the last few years of his life fighting to fully restore the Voting Rights Act. In 2013 the Supreme Court struck down a part of the act that invalidated federal oversight of elections. Lewis inspired many across the country by advocating for the downtrodden and underrepresented until his death on July 17th. He served seventeen terms in the U.S House of Representatives, representing Georgia. More importantly, Lewis always fought for a better America.
The man was a Civil Rights hero, a U.S Representative, and an American icon. Many are calling for Congress to fully restore the Voting Rights Act and rename it in honor of Lewis. Whether this will happen remains yet to be seen. The loss of Lewis is yet another blow in what has been a chaotic year, but American citizens would honor the legend by listening to his most famous piece of advice.
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”John Lewis
Rest in power Representative John Lewis. The world will never lose your light as long as people keep fighting for what is right. Lewis’s legacy illuminates the path of justice forevermore.