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Civil Rights Icon Rep. John Lewis Has Passed Away at 80

Lewis was the US representative for Georgia's 5th Congressional District for over 30 years.

john lewis

In a year of heartbreaking losses, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis has passed away at 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Lewis passed on the same day as fellow civil rights leader the Rev. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, who was 95. Both men worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the historic Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Born to sharecroppers in rural Alabama, Lewis grew up to be an integral member of the fight against racial segregation and discrimination in America. He was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, who rode interstate buses into the segregated South. Lewis was attacked several times, arrested over 40 times, and survived a brutal beating at the hands of the police during the Selma to Montgomery protest marches in 1965. He was also a pivotal organizer of the March on Washington, where King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Lewis, a Democrat who served as the US representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for more than three decades, was widely seen as a moral conscience of Congress because of his decades-long embodiment of nonviolent fight for civil rights. His passionate oratory was backed by a long record of action that included, by his count, more than 40 arrests while demonstrating against racial and social injustice.

He served as the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district from 1987 until his death, and was known as “the conscience of congress.” In all his years of service, he never wavered from his commitment to nonviolence and his endless fight for justice and equality.

His family released a statement which reads, “It is with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness that we announce the passing of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, … He was honored and respected as the conscience of the US Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the on-going struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He dedicated his entire life to non-violent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America. He will be deeply missed.”

President Barack Obama, who awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, wrote “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.”

Many shared their condolences and memories of Lewis on social media in tribute to the remarkable man:

(via CNN, image: Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool/Getty Images)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.