One of the nation’s most well-respected and an honorable man, Congressman John Lewis passed away on July 17. His sacrifices and philosophy of hope and optimism will forever be engrained in our continued efforts for civil rights and justice. Congressman Lewis served in the United States House of Representatives for 30 years and was a leader in the civil rights movement, organizing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Congressman Lewis was also an original Freedom Rider in 1961, a principal speaker at the March on Washington in 1963 and one of the many peaceful protestors attacked by Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday during a 1965 march in Selma, Alabama.
The Rev. C.T. Vivian a monumental figure in the civil rights movement also passed away on July 17. Rev. Vivian was a close friend and advisor to the late Dr. Martin Luther King.
The Weekly Issue/El Semanario commemorates this week’s edition to Congressman John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian. Below we share community tributes:
Today we’ve lost a founder of modern América, a pioneer who shrunk the gap between reality and our constitutional ideals of equality and freedom.
C.T. Vivian was one of Dr. King’s closest advisors, a field general in his movement for civil rights and justice. “Martin taught us that it’s in the action that we find out who we really are,” Reverend Vivian once said. And he was always one of the first in action – a Freedom Rider, a marcher in Selma, beaten, jailed, almost killed, absorbing blows in hopes that fewer of us would have to. He waged nonviolent campaigns for integration across the south, and campaigns for economic justice throughout the north, knowing that even after the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act that he helped win, our long journey to equality was nowhere finished. As Rosa Parks once said of Reverend Vivian that, “even after things had supposedly been taken care of and we had our rights, he was still there.”
I admired him from before I became a senator and got to know him as a source of wisdom, advice, and strength on my first presidential campaign. His friendship, encouraging words, and ever-present smile were a great source of inspiration and comfort, and personally, I miss him greatly. I’m only here thanks to C.T. Vivian and all the heroes in that Civil Rights Generation. Because of them, the idea of a just, fair, inclusive, and generous America came closer into focus. The trail they blazed gave today’s generation of activists and marchers a roadmap to tag in and finish the journey. And I have to imagine that seeing the largest protest movement in history unfold over his final months gave the Reverend a final dose of hope before his long and well-deserved rest.
Barack H. Obama is the 44th President of the United States.
América is a constant work in progress. What gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further — to speak out for what’s right, to challenge an unjust status quo, and to imagine a better world.
John Lewis — one of the original Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of Georgia for 33 years — not only assumed that responsibility, he made it his life’s work. 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.
Considering his enormous impact on the history of this country, what always struck those who met John was his gentleness and humility. Born into modest means in the heart of the Jim Crow South, he understood that he was just one of a long line of heroes in the struggle for racial justice. Early on, he embraced the principles of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as the means to bring about real change in this country, understanding that such tactics had the power not only to change laws, but to change hearts and minds as well.
In so many ways, John’s life was exceptional. But he never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country might do. He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, a longing to do what’s right, a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect. And it’s because he saw the best in all of us that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in that long journey towards a more perfect union.
I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders. When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made. And through all those years, he never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement to me and Michelle and our family. We will miss him dearly.
It’s fitting that the last time John and I shared a public forum was at a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists who were helping to lead this summer’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Afterwards, I spoke to him privately, and he could not have been prouder of their efforts — of a new generation standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation intent on voting and protecting the right to vote, a new generation running for political office. I told him that all those young people — of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — they were his children. They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books.
Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.
Barack H. Obama is the 44th President of the United States.
Congressman John Lewis had a simple philosophy, ‘Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.’
Rep. John Lewis an original freedom fighter was beaten and jailed for demanding the right to vote. To honor this good man the way he would wish… register and vote this fall. We owe it to Mr. Lewis to do so.
We must all show up, to protect voting rights, and expand access to affordable healthcare.
We must all show up to persevere our air, water and land.
We must all show up to ensure that nobody gets left behind – regardless of race, class, gender, religion, sexual ordination, or disability.
And finally, it’s up to us to fight for equality and justice for all.
Together we can, because John Lewis did. I know we can.
Rhonda Fields, Colorado State Senate as Assistant Majority Leader in Senate District 29.
Crushed to hear about the passing of my dear friend, John Lewis. We need to channel his goodness to carry on the fights we are facing now with the grace and humanity that John always demonstrated.
Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-Colorado).
One of the honors of my life was working alongside civil rights hero John Lewis – an exceptional leader and fighter for the American Dream. John stood for justice, equality, and hope for a better future for every person in our country. He was the definition of courage and may he rest in peace.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis.
For parents trying to answer their children’s questions about what to make of the world we are in today, teach them about John Lewis.
Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden
We are made in the image of God, and then there is John Lewis.
How could someone in flesh and blood be so courageous, so full of hope and love in the face of so much hate, violence, and vengeance? Perhaps it was the Spirit that found John as a young boy in the Deep South dreaming of preaching the social gospel; the work ethic his sharecropper parents instilled in him and that stayed with him; the convictions of nonviolent civil disobedience he mastered from Dr. King and countless fearless leaders in the movement; or the abiding connection with the constituents of Georgia’s 5th District he loyally served for decades.
Or perhaps it was that he was truly a one-of-a-kind, a moral compass who always knew where to point us and which direction to march.
It is rare to meet and befriend our heroes. John was that hero for so many people of every race and station, including us. He absorbed the force of human nature’s cruelty during the course of his life, and the only thing that could finally stop him was cancer. But he was not bitter. We spoke to him a few days ago for the final time. His voice still commanded respect and his laugh was still full of joy. Instead of answering our concerns for him, he asked about us. He asked us to stay focused on the work left undone to heal this nation. He was himself – a man at peace, of dignity, grace and character.
John’s life reminds us that the most powerful symbol of what it means to be an American is what we do with the time we have to make real the promise of our nation – that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally. Through the beatings, the marches, the arrests, the debates on war, peace, and freedom, and the legislative fights for good jobs and health care and the fundamental right to vote, he taught us that while the journey toward equality is not easy, we must be unafraid and never cower and never, ever give up.
That is the charge a great American and humble man of God has left us. For parents trying to answer their children’s questions about what to make of the world we are in today, teach them about John Lewis. For the peaceful marchers for racial and economic justice around the world who are asking where we go from here, follow his lead. For his fellow legislators, govern by your conscience like he did, not for power or party. He was our bridge – to our history so we did not forget its pain and to our future so we never lose our hope.
To John’s son, John Miles, and to his family, friends, staff, and constituents, we send you our love and prayers. Thank you for sharing him with the nation and the world.
And to John, march on, dear friend. May God bless you. May you reunite with your beloved Lillian. And may you continue to inspire righteous good trouble down from the Heavens.
Joe Biden, Senator, Vice President, 2020 candidate for President.
John Lewis was a champion for the unheard, invisible, and the oppressed. I’m devastated — we’ve lost a friend to all and pillar of moral clarity. I am truly blessed to have served with John Lewis.
During the floor debate on HR 1, I sat in the Speaker’s Chair behind John Lewis in the well of the House Floor, while he closed the debate with a call for us all to fight for voting rights and against the obstacles that stifle our freedoms; I will never forget that moment. He counseled me many times about the past and about our charge as Members of Congress to be a voice for the underrepresented. He taught us all what it meant to be selfless, strong, unafraid, and fierce in the face of violence and oppression.
We must take what John Lewis taught us and use this knowledge to make a better world. I will miss him dearly. My heart hurts for our country. Rest in power, Mr. John Lewis.
Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-01).
Ben Ray Luján
The passing of civil rights icon John Lewis is an unfathomable loss for our nation. An original Freedom Rider, John Lewis was the Conscience of the United States Congress and statesman whose leadership helped usher in the civil rights era.
He played a pivotal role in our nation’s history fighting for equality and justice – and his legacy will be continued by the generations of activists he inspired to ‘get into good trouble.’
América has lost a national treasure, and all of us in Congress have lost a friend and mentor. I will always consider it a blessing to have known Mr. Lewis, and I know his light will continue shining bright in the courage and conviction of the American people. My prayers and deepest condolences are with his loved ones, and I hope it comforts his family to know that a nation mourns with them tonight.
U.S. House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.).
Michelle Lujan Grisham
John Lewis was a beacon of light and justice and good in a world in which they are too often lacking. His perseverance was a foundation of hope for all those who came after him. Serving in Congress alongside him was one of the great honors of my career. Rest in power.
New México Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Raúl M. Grijalva
Our country lost a legend and a national icon with the death of my friend and colleague John Lewis. Every day of his life, John fought for the heart and soul of America, inspiring generations of people to get into ‘good trouble’ in pursuit of equality.
From the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma to the halls of Congress, he always used wherever he was to ensure that our country lived up to its promise to all of us. He leaves behind a legacy that will continue to inspire all of those committed to furthering social justice for generations to come. My thoughts are with his family, his constituents, and all of those mourning this loss and honoring his memory.
Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona).
Catherine Cortez Masto
Congressman Lewis grew up the son of Alabama sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South and went on to serve for thirty years in the United States House of Representatives. He was a force for equal rights under the law as a leader in the civil rights movement, and an advocate for Dreamers, LGBTQ Americans, farmworkers and countless others who didn’t have a voice in the halls of power.
As he organized nonviolent protests against systemic racism from lunch counters to the halls of Congress, he never lost sight of his vision. A vision of ‘the beloved community’ where all would be welcomed, treated with dignity and celebrated for their gifts.
Today, Paul and I mourn the loss of a man who forced our nation to reckon with its conscience, a leader with the courage to put his life on the line to make ‘good trouble’ and a visionary whose faith showed us all that there is a way out of hate and darkness: the way of love. We send our deepest condolences to his loved ones and staff during this difficult time.
Less well known is that John Lewis was one of the most courageous and consistent advocates for just and humane immigration policies.
U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).
John Lewis sacrificed his body and his freedom several times throughout his life in courageous acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. He believed that change could not wait and that we must act now and in this moment if we want things to change. I strongly believe that in his passing, John Lewis’s legacy is a call-to-action to all of us, that we must act with the same urgency that he did in fighting for justice.
We are now at a time and place in this country in which we are actively dismantling white supremacy and systemic racism. Civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action are required to change the system, to maintain the momentum, and catalyze this nation forward.”
The collective liberation of Black, Indigenous and people of color are intrinsically bound together, and our common enemy is white supremacy and racism. Today we mourn, and tomorrow we fight. Our sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of John Lewis, a leader who paved a way for us all.
Nick Tilsen, President and CEO for the NDN Collective.
Anthony D. Romero
The death of John Lewis at this moment of national reckoning on race leaves us without a key protagonist for the third Reconstruction that must begin in November. We have lost a great legislator, activist, and ally. Rep. John Lewis’ activism, his inclusive vision of civil rights, and his clarion voice have left indelible marks on millions of people and countless movements. He called to the better angels in all of us to cause ‘good trouble’ so that América’s promises of justice and equality would apply to everyone in América — communities of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people.
As we mourn the loss of a true hero and patriot, we also re-commit to building the future John Lewis knew we could create: one in which ‘We the People’ truly means all of us. He taught us about the America worth fighting for, and we will keep fighting for it. He was a dear friend, ally and confidant to many civil rights leaders, legislators — even U.S. Presidents — of conscience. But his biggest contribution was to the millions of people who struggle against injustice and poverty — and while they may never have met him, they never had a better friend.
Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
We have lost an icon of the civil rights movement, a longtime friend and champion of the Latino community, and a great American. He was called the conscience of the Congress, but he was really the conscience of the nation. The loss of this uncommonly decent, moral, humane, and good man is heartbreaking, and especially hard to bear given the current state of our nation.
When I marched across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama several years ago, I was moved to tears thinking about the courage of John Lewis and his fellow marchers that Sunday in 1965. But despite almost losing his life, John Lewis never stopped marching and he never stopped fighting. And even as a titan of the civil rights movement, he always and generously embraced new movements for justice and new activists, especially the young leaders he mentored.
One of those communities he embraced was ours. He never hesitated in supporting Latinos and Immigrants—from comprehensive immigration reform to voting rights to condemning family separation. He said many times that ‘We are all one family, living in one house,’ and that he believed that our fight was moving the entire civil rights movement forward. To have his blessing for the Latino civil rights movement was something that both humbled us and that we will forever cherish. For his extraordinary work and unmatched legacy, we were deeply honored to have given him our Capital Award for Public Service in 2004.
Our deepest condolences to his family and to our friends and partners in the African American community who are mourning today. He is irreplaceable. But we will let his example inspire all of us to get into ‘good trouble’ as we work to fulfill his dream of justice and equality for all.
Janet Murguía serves as President and CEO of UnidosUS.
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