U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, an iconic civil rights leader from the 1960s who served 17 terms in Congress, died Friday night, The New York Times reported. He was 80.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed Lewis’ death to The Associated Press. Pelosi called Lewis “one of the greatest heroes of American history.”
Lewis had been suffering from pancreatic cancer. He died the same day as another civil rights pioneer, Rev. C.T. Vivian. The 95-year-old Vivian died of natural causes Friday at his home in Atlanta.
Lewis was the last surviving member of the civil rights movement’s Big Six, which included Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, A. Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young.
King’s son, Martin Luther King III, tweeted that Lewis was “an American treasure.”
“He gave a voice to the voiceless, and he reminded each of us that the most powerful nonviolent tool is the vote,” King wrote.
Lewis announced on Dec. 29 that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer, the Times reported.
“I have been in some kind of fight -- for freedom, equality, basic human rights -- for nearly my entire life,” he said at the time.
Lewis helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was named its chairman in 1963, the AP reported.
As a 25-year-old, Lewis was beaten so badly his skull was fractured during the 1965 Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. He was at the head of the march when he was knocked to the ground and beaten by police. The nationally televised images forced the country’s attention on the racial inequalities being fought by King and others.
Lewis would become a best-selling author and was awarded the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, USA Today reported. Lewis was elected to his 17th term in November 2018.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said “our nation will never forget this American hero.”
“The Senate and the nation mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis, a pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism, promote equal rights, and bring our nation into greater alignment with its founding principles,” McConnell said.
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