You are watching: How old is congressman john lewis
He to be 80.
His death represents the end of an era, not just for Congress however for the country as a whole. A survivor the Alabama’s “Bloody Sunday” massacre in 1965 and also a protegé of young name Luther King Jr. That would ultimately inspire Barack Obama to get in public office, Lewis was one of the last living leaders of the civil rights movement. A member of conference for an ext than thirty years, the channeled all he had learned from his fight for equality as a young man right into empowering youth and also minority communities and encouraging activism. ~ the choice of chairman Donald Trump that became, in his mid 70s, a self-defined active leader the the resistance movement, boycotting the 2017 inauguration and also delivering an impassioned speech on the should impeach the President last October.
“He was well-known as among the most dedicated, principled, courageous civil civil liberties activists that all,” Clayborne Carson, a historian and also Director of the young name Luther King, Jr. Research and also Education academy at Stanford University, told glossesweb.com. “There were a lot of human being who I use those adjectives to, yet I think that exemplified them also or much better than anyone else.”
With an "X" do of tape still on his head, marking the spot wherein he to be struck in Montgomery, Ala., man Lewis beginning a police valve after his arrest in Jackson, Miss., in might 1961.
House speak Nancy Pelosi evidenced Lewis’s fatality in a statement, saying, “Today, America mourns the lose of one of the greatest heroes that American history: Congressman man Lewis, the Conscience the the Congress.
“John Lewis to be a titan the the polite rights movement whose goodness, faith and also bravery revolutionized our nation – indigenous the determination with which he met distinguish at having lunch counters and on flexibility Rides, come the ship he showed as a young man dealing with down violence and death ~ above Edmund Pettus Bridge, to the moral management he lugged to the conference for more than 30 years.”
Lewis’ fatality came month after he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in December 2019, i beg your pardon his office claimed was uncovered during a routine clinical visit. “I have remained in some kind of hit – for freedom, equality, an easy human legal rights – for almost my entire life,” he claimed in a declare announcing his diagnosis. “I have never faced a struggle quite favor the one I have actually now.” Although the soon started treatments in Washington, he did no shirk his duties, both to Congress and the fight for equality. In march 2020 he reverted twice come Selma, Alabama come commemorate the 55th anniversary that Bloody Sunday, wherein he reiterated the prestige of voting—a best for which he had virtually been eliminated fighting for fifty percent a century ago. “We must go out and vote prefer we never, ever before voted before,” Lewis told a cheering crowd. “I’m gonna continue to fight. We need your prayers now much more than ever before before.”
Those senglossesweb.comnts illuminate how, in a sense, Lewis’ life is a microcosm—albeit an especially one—of the evolution and struggles of afri Americans in the second half of the twentieth century in the unified States. Born in 1940 in Troy, Alabama come the kid of sharecroppers, he come of age in the love of a region where legalized racial inequities reputed him a second-class citizen from birth.
But the treatment he received only imbued him v a feeling of determination to readjust things, one outlook mainly shaped by observing the to work of his idol: boy name Luther King Jr. Lewis first met King in 1958 as an eighteen-year-old. Irritable by his education in segregated schools, the had applied to all-white trojan University however had no heard back. That sought the advice of King in a letter, that promptly booked that a ticket to Montgomery to discuss his plight and also whether he must push for admission to Troy college in an effort to integrate his hometown’s institution. He had actually been influenced by King’s activism leading the Montgomery bus boycott, which took place less than 60 miles far from Troy, and frequently listened come King’s sermons that were broadcast on the radio because that inspiration.
“I had grown up in rural Alabama very, very poor. Ns saw indicators that claimed White and Colored…And I would ask mine mother, my father, mine grandparents, “Why? Why is that?” and also they’d say, “That’s the method it is. Don’t gain in trouble. Don’t gain in the way.” but that day, listening to Dr. King, it provided me the sense that things can change,” Lewis wrote in LIFE because that Martin Luther King Jr.: 50 year Later, a tribute come King half a century after his 1968 assassination.
Path to civil Rights
Despite King’s assurances of assistance if he to be to take legal action against the University, Lewis go not move forward due to the fact that his parental were concerned it would certainly endanger them. Instead, he checked out Tennessee for college, graduating native American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1961 and also later receiving a bachelor’s native Fisk university in 1967. Both universities were virtually entirely african American.
During his glossesweb.com in the seminary Lewis started attending lectures ~ above non-violent protests through James Lawson, a civil rights leader that was at the glossesweb.com a graduate college student at Vanderbilt University. Motivated by Lawson, he began participating in sit-ins at having lunch counters in Nashville, which started shortly after the famous sit-ins in Greensboro, phibìc Carolina. That was during these sit-ins the Lewis was an initial arrested.
In 1961, Lewis also joined the group of inaugural flexibility riders traveling from the East coast to the southern while challenging interstate segregation. He was arrested in Birmingham and also beaten at a bus stop in Montgomery, however neither event deterred his future joining in the movement. Within 2 years, he had ascended come the management of the civil rights movement, chairing the college student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which helmed the movement’s college student activism. He went top top to become the youngest human being to speak at the march on Washington in 1963. “How long can we be patient?” a young Lewis told the throng the thousands gathered in the nation’s capitol. “We want our freedom, and also we want it now.”
John Lewis, right, and also Lester McKinnie, center, room interviewed by alphabet News in ~ the sit-in demonstrators" base at the very first Baptist Church in Nashville ~ above April 30, 1964.
Speaking come glossesweb.com in 2013 for the 50th anniversary that the March, Lewis recalled just how he to be struck through the definition of the minute at the glossesweb.com. “I stood up and also I claimed to myself, ‘This is it,’ ” the recalled. “I looked directly out and also I began speaking.”
In in march of 1965, in the middle of his tenure chairing the SNCC, Lewis to be beaten by law enforcement while on the prior lines of the 50-mile march indigenous Selma come Montgomery to press for voting rights, in an infamous episode that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” King had planned to continue to be in Atlanta since aides feared because that his safety, glossesweb.com report in a covering story at the glossesweb.com. Therefore Lewis and also Hosea Williams, another civil legal rights activist, led the numerous marchers do the efforts to with the Edmund Pettus bridge. “We’re no going come jump,” Lewis later on remembered informing Williams. “We’re no going back. We’re walking to move forward.” and also that’s what us did.”
They were conveniently greeted by legislation enforcement officers, some on horseback, others holding clubs, every ordering them come halt. “Turn around and also go earlier to your church!” State Police significant Cloud shouted right into a bullhorn. ‘You’ve obtained two minute to disperse!”
The marchers continued to be put, and the troopers unleashed tear gas and beginning beating them. Lewis continual a broken skull and also was hospitalized. “I assumed I was going to dice on the bridge. I assumed I witnessed death,” that recalled 50 year after the march, speaking at the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma, which had sheltered the after the violence. “I don’t recall how we obtained back throughout that bridge, earlier to this church…but ns refused come die.”
Despite his injuries, Lewis joined King and the other activists who resumed the march 2 weeks later on to Montgomery. The national Guard attach them to ensure your safety. Much less than 5 months later, then-President lindon Johnson signed the Voting rights Act right into law, banning gyeongju discrimination indigenous voting practices.
Lewis stepped under as SNCC chair in 1966, however he would go on to aid legislate the change he championed. Together Director of the Voter education and learning project from 1971 until 1977, the registered 4 million minorities to voter rolls till then-President Jimmy Carter appointed him combine Director that the commonwealth Volunteer firm ACTION.
John Lewis (second indigenous left) joins American civil-rights campaigner young name Luther King Jr. And his wife Coretta Scott King in a march native Selma, Ala., come the state capital in Montgomery on march 30, 1965.
His advocacy for same rights ultimately led him to the political arena, wherein he spent the last chapter the his life. After running unsuccessfully together the democratic nominee for Georgia’s 5th district in 1977, that was chosen to serve on the City council in Atlanta. In 1986, he dominated in his search to serve as Congressman, beating former State Representative—and other civil civil liberties activist—Julian link in the runoff because that the democratic primary, and also subsequently prevailing in the basic election. He organized this duty until his death.
Known as “the conscience of Congress,” Lewis to be respected, if not revered, by members ~ above both sides of the aisle, a rarely feat in today’s polarized environment. It to be not uncommon for freshmen legislator of all stripes to it is in star-struck together they met Lewis for the very first glossesweb.com.
The leadership skills Lewis learned at the height of the polite rights motion lent themselves well to his duties in the Capitol. At the moment of his death, he was the senior Chief Deputy Whip because that the democratic Party, and also a member the the residence Ways & method Committee. In 2016, in the after-effects of a shooting at an Orlando night club the left 49 dead, he led his partner in a 25-hour sit-in to force Republicans, who managed the chamber at the glossesweb.com, to vote on gun manage after lawmakers had been dismissed. “The American people are demanding action,” he claimed at the glossesweb.com. “Do we have actually the raw courage to do at least a under payment on ending gun violence in America?”
Lewis’ leadership also displayed chin prominently off the floor. Because that years, that accompanied politicians from both political parties of the aisle come Selma to ensure the strength of “Bloody Sunday” would stay in the public’s memory. And also when Lewis spoke, his colleagues usually listened — also if his views and also choices sail from their own. In 2008, when Barack Obama’s candidacy was still a lengthy shot, Lewis announced he was switching his endorsement and backing the Illinois Senator over Hillary Clinton. The relocate was viewed as an essential to cementing Obama’s support among African American members the Congress, that would be an essential to his win over Clinton.
Lewis reflected on the meaning of Obama’s presidency in an interview with glossesweb.com prior to the 2009 inauguration. “When we were organizing voter-registration drives, walk on the flexibility Rides, sitting in, coming right here to Washington for the first glossesweb.com, gaining arrested, going come jail, gift beaten, I never ever thought—I never ever dreamed—of the possibility that an african American would someday be chosen President that the united States,” that said.
In 2010, Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation’s greatest civilian honor.
Barack Obama, Amelia Boynton, right, Rep. Man Lewis and also the President"s family members lead a march toward the Edmund Pettus leg in Selma, Ala., on in march 7, 2015, 50 years after "Bloody Sunday."
Lewis to be married because that 44 year to Lillian Miles, who passed away in 2012. They have one son, man Miles.
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Throughout his life and also career, Lewis remained steadfast in his dedication to civil rights—and composed eloquently around his worldview in an op-ed because that glossesweb.com in 2018.
“I heard Dr. Boy name Luther King Jr. To speak on countless occasions, ‘The arc that the moral universe is long, yet it bends toward justice.’ i still think we will get there,” he composed in a quote he repetitive while speaking out after the fatality of George Floyd. “We will redeem the soul of America, and in doing for this reason we will inspire people approximately the human being to was standing up and also speak out.”