Many in the Rome and Floyd County community are remembering today Civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis, who passed away late Friday night at the age of 80 after an ongoing battle with cancer.
Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis had the opportunity to meet with Lewis on several different occasions through her work with the Democratic National Committee. She was able to present him with a piece of local artwork from James Schroeder during an event in 2014 (pictured right)
“He was so gracious. I’ll never forgot the joy in the room as everyone smiled the biggest smiles when he was dancing to ‘Happy’,” she says. “He’s an American hero…an immeasurable loss for Georgia and our nation. I’m honoring his legacy by continuing to get in ‘good trouble’ as he taught us.”
Mayor Bill Collins says he will be working with others in the community on a memorial event to honor Lewis, no specific details available at this time.
“I am deeply saddened by the death of John Lewis. He was a great civil rights leader and has done so much for a lot of people…done a lot for a person like myself to be in the position I am in today. He meant the world to a lot of people and is like no other…a very honorable man,” he says.
Floyd Commission Chair Scotty Hancock shared, “We lost a great leader, no matter which side of the aisle you are on, you must have respect for Congressman John Lewis.”
“A luminary of the Civil Rights Movement, Congressman Lewis continuously laid his life on the line in the fight against racism. Despite the hatred, brutality and disappointment Congressman Lewis endured in his lifetime, it was his willingness to actively love all people that most impacted me. Let us honor his memory by never forgetting the words he uttered over 50 years ago: ‘Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people’.”
Excerpts from his biography from his congressional website:
Often called “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,” John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls “The Beloved Community” in America. His dedication to the highest ethical standards and moral principles has won him the admiration of many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress.
He was born the son of sharecroppers on February 21, 1940, outside of Troy, Alabama. He grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama. As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. In those pivotal moments, he made a decision to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Ever since then, he has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.
As a student at Fisk University, John Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1961, he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Lewis risked his life on those Rides many times by simply sitting in seats reserved for white patrons. He was also beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation in the South.
During the height of the Movement, from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was named Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for organizing student activism in the Movement, including sit-ins and other activities.
While still a young man, John Lewis became a nationally recognized leader. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963.
In 1964, John Lewis coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The following year, Lewis helped spearhead one of the most seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement. Hosea Williams, another notable Civil Rights leader, and John Lewis led over 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. They intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” News broadcasts and photographs revealing the senseless cruelty of the segregated South helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. After leaving SNCC in 1966, he continued his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement as Associate Director of the Field Foundation and his participation in the Southern Regional Council’s voter registration programs. Lewis went on to become the Director of the Voter Education Project (VEP). Under his leadership, the VEP transformed the nation’s political climate by adding nearly four million minorities to the voter rolls.
In 1977, John Lewis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency.
In 1981, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. While serving on the Council, he was an advocate for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. He was elected to Congress in November 1986 and has served as U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since then. He is Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party in leadership in the House, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, and Chairman of its Subcommittee on Oversight.
John Lewis holds a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville, Tennessee. He has been awarded over 50 honorary degrees from prestigious colleges and universities throughout the United States, including Harvard University, Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Duke University, Morehouse College, Clark-Atlanta University, Howard University, Brandeis University, Columbia University, Fisk University, and Troy State University.
John Lewis is the recipient of numerous awards from eminent national and international institutions, including the highest civilian honor granted by President Barack Obama, the Medal of Freedom, the Lincoln Medal from the historic Ford’s Theatre, the Golden Plate Award given by the Academy of Excellence, the Preservation Hero award given by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Capital Award of the National Council of La Raza, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize, the President’s Medal of Georgetown University, the NAACP Spingarn Medal, the National Education Association Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award, and the only John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award” for Lifetime Achievement ever granted by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
He has one son, John Miles.
Statement from former U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson: “I am terribly saddened by the loss of a great man.@repjohnlewis was a man of faith, who fought every battle with dignity, including his last. His legacy and the lessons he leaves behind have touched us all, and my prayers are with all who loved him. We will miss you, my friend.”
Statement from U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-14): “John was a dear friend. I first met John Lewis the day I was sworn into Congress. As the Dean of the Georgia delegation, he introduced me to the entire House with a classic John Lewis-style speech filled with passion. He then stood with me as I repeated the oath of office. It was an honor to stand beside him. John was a fighter. In the face of injustice and hatred, he put his life on the line to stand up for what was right. For more than three decades he fought for Georgia families in Congress while serving as a steady voice of reason, civility and justice. I will never forget joining him last December to pay tribute to our friend Senator Johnny Isakson. We stood as friends and fellow Georgians, not as Democrats or Republicans. It’s a moment I will always remember. I am lucky to have served alongside John Lewis. God bless him and his family in the days to come.”
Statement from U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-GA): “No one embodied the word ‘courage’ better than John Lewis. As a civil rights icon, John inspired millions of Americans to fight injustice and reject the status quo. Without a doubt, his wisdom and resolve made the world a better place. Bonnie and I join the nation in sending heartfelt prayers to John’s loved ones during this difficult time. We hope they find comfort in knowing he is at peace and that his legacy will live on for generations to come.”
Statement from U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA): “The passing of John Lewis is a devastating loss, not just for Georgia, but the entire country. Few people have the grit, tenacity or courage of John Lewis. As a leader in the civil rights movement, he always pushed America to live up to its promise of freedom and equality. Our nation is better because of his leadership and courage. We know his legacy will never be forgotten. Jeff and I join the nation in mourning this tremendous loss. May God comfort the Lewis family and their loved ones during this incredibly difficult time.”