Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1960s, died on Friday at age 80. Lewis was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in December, months after he was elected to another term in Congress. Lewis, who was the last surviving member of the "Big Six" leaders who organized the 1963 March on Washington, was first elected to Congress in 1987.
Lewis' death came a few days after his spokesman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that rumors of his death earlier this week were not true. "He is resting comfortably at home," his spokesman, Michael Collins, said at the time. U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina shared the news at that time and apologized for spreading incorrect information.
Terrible loss: Civil Rights icon John Lewis has died after a struggle with pancreatic cancer. The Congressman became a young leader and speaker at Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington, and in 1965 almost died in the brutal attack on marchers at the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) July 18, 2020
When Lewis announced his cancer diagnosis, he said his doctors gave him a "fighting chance" to survive and he was prepared for another challenge in his incredible life. "I have been in some kind of fight- for freedom, equality, basic human rights - for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now," Lewis said in December. He later wrote, "So I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the Beloved Community. We still have many bridges to cross."
In June, Lewis said he was doing better. "I'm going to continue to listen to the doctor and try to eat right and get enough rest and sleep," he told New York Magazine. "But I have good days and days not so good."
Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama, and began taking part in civil rights protests in Nashville as part of the Nashville Student Movement. In 1961, he was one of the original Freedom Riders and often faced beatings during their trips through the segregated South. Two years later, he took over as the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He became the youngest of the "Big Six" to organize the March on Washington, alongside King, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph and James Farmer. In 1965, he helped lead the march from Selma to Montgomery and was beaten on "Bloody Sunday." He had scars from his beating for the rest of his life. In March, Lewis marched on the Edmund Pettus Bridge again to mark the 55th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday."
"On this bridge, some of us gave a little blood to help redeem the soul of America. Our country is a better country. We are (a) better people, but we have still a distance to travel to go before we get there," Lewis said in March. "I want to thank each and every one of you for being here, for not giving up, not giving in, for keeping the faith, for keeping your eyes on the prize."
In the 1970s, Lewis began his career in politics and ran for Congress for the first time in 1977. Although he lost, Lewis was appointed to a position in President Jimmy Carter's administration. In 1981, he won a seat on the Atlanta City Council. In 1986, he ran for Congress successfully for the first time and was re-elected 16 times.
Lewis continued to see racial unrest for the rest of his life. In June, he told CBS News the video of George Floyd being killed by a Minneapolis police officer made him cry, and he praised the ongoing protests against racial injustice. He asked President Donald Trump to embrace a peaceful response to the protests, telling him, "You cannot stop the call of history."
"During the '60s, the great majority of us accepted the way of peace, the way of love, philosophy and discipline of nonviolence as a way of life, as a way of living," Lewis said in June. "There's something cleansing, something wholesome, about being peaceful and orderly. We're one people, we're one family. We all live in the same house, not just the American house but the world house."