Reactions pour in after death of civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis

Updated: Jul. 18, 2020 at 11:22 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Reactions have poured in since late Friday night after news broke that civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis died at the age of 80.

Lewis, a Pike County native, was a famed member of the Civil Rights movement, and not only took part in the Bloody Sunday march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, but had his blood spilled as he was beaten by Alabama State Troopers.

In late December 2019 Lewis announced that he had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.

From the national level to the state and local levels, members from both parties Democrat and Republican spoke highly of the last living member of the Big Six civil rights activists.

From the mayors of Montgomery and Birmingham in Steven Reed and Randall Woodfin:

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed also issued the following statement:

“Our nation and our community have lost a giant.

From his humble roots in Pike County, John Lewis rose to become a titan of courage and conscientiousness. His was the voice of righteousness as he bravely, repeatedly risked his life and wellbeing for the cause of equality for all.

From Montgomery’s Greyhound bus station, to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, to the halls of Congress, John Lewis displayed the best characteristics of us all; and demanded that our society embrace higher values.

Let us pay homage to his memory by emulating his life and “getting into good trouble” whenever and wherever injustice is found.”

The City of Montgomery:

The city of Troy posted a message from Mayor Jason Reeves on its Facebook page in which Reeves shares a personal memory with Lewis and his family:

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Twitter said, “we’ll forever remember his heroism & his enduring legacy”:

Ivey has also ordered all flags across the state to be flown at half-staff:

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued the following statement on the passing of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis:

“As history continues to write about John Lewis, it will highlight a warrior who used a bridge as a simple but powerful reminder that all men and women are created equal. His quiet demeanor was overshadowed by his larger than life boldness. His courageous footsteps were heard around the world.

"I had the honor of meeting Rep. Lewis at the 50th Anniversary of Selma to Montgomery March. We shared that while we differed in parties, as Americans we stood together as brother and sister recognizing that our freedoms are colorblind. No one has control of the color of their skin, but we all have control of our actions. His actions without violence are etched in history as role modeling equality through peace.

“Rep. Lewis now lovingly marches in God’s army while we are tasked with loving and working together to end racism through our hearts- to listen, learn and love. May we all continue to peacefully change the world with our own steps as we honor the life of John Lewis.”

Alabama 7th Congressional District Rep. Terri Sewell on Twitter:

Rep. Sewell released a full statement:

“My heart breaks for the passing of my dear friend and mentor Congressman John Lewis, but my spirit soars for an angel walked among us and we were all touched by his greatness. He forever changed Selma and this nation. May we finish his life’s work and restore the Voting Rights Act.

“Congressman John Lewis was a beacon of light, hope and inspiration throughout his life. To be in his presence was to experience love, whole-hearted and without exception. Though he was so often met with hatred, violence and racial terrorism, it never permeated his being. He remained until his passing a faithful servant-leader, whose righteousness, kindness and vision for a more equitable future inspired all who were blessed to know him. I am honored to have been able to call him a mentor and colleague and, above all, a friend.

“On Bloody Sunday in 1965, John was confronted by Alabama state troopers and their dogs, but he was determined to fight for equality and justice, putting his own life on the line in the service of others and a vision for a brighter future. So many times did John cross bridges, insisting that our nation live up to the promises enshrined in our constitution. As he always said, he gave a little blood on Selma bridge, but he also bridged the gaps that so often divide our political parties, working every day for a more just America.

“John believed firmly that the best days of our nation lie ahead of us. It is his unwavering optimism that I will continue to call upon in moments of challenge and hardship.

“While John has left this earth, his legacy fighting for equality and justice lives on. I hope that our nation – and our leaders – will unite behind the cause most dear to John: voting rights. We must restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to its full strength so that every American – regardless of color – is able to make their voice heard at the ballot box.

“John, the ‘boy from Troy,’ was the conscience of the Congress. He will be dearly missed.”

Sewell was interviewed Saturday on the passing of Lewis and said called Lewis a mentor, friend, and father figure:

Alabama 2nd Congressional District Rep. Martha Roby on Twitter said Lewis, “was truly a great American hero,”:

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones on Twitter:

Sen. Jones released a full statement:

“While this news is nothing short of heart-breaking, the pain we all feel at this loss is evident of the deep love, appreciation, and respect we have for John Lewis. As a son of Troy, Alabama, he loved our country with all of his heart and set out to make it a stronger, more democratic, more equal, more just nation for every person. To persevere toward that end in the face of the hate and violence he so often faced is a testament to his strength of both character and heart. John was a dear friend to my wife Louise and me, and we are both profoundly grateful to have had him in our lives.

“John’s life has long represented an unbroken thread from a painful past to a more hopeful future. He gave us all a reason to hope. More importantly, he gave us the courage to pursue the bright future we all want for our children. As we begin to grapple with a world without him, we must face the challenges of this moment with the same grit and perseverance he embodied. We are charged with picking up the torch and continuing the fight for justice and equality that was his life’s work. John was called the ‘conscience of Congress.’ May the conscience of all in Congress and the Senate be awakened by his passing to finish John’s efforts to restore integrity to the Voting Rights Act.

“John often encouraged getting into a little ‘good trouble for a righteous cause’ and he pursued the cause of racial justice with love, and as a uniter, not a divider. He taught me that heroes walk among us, and that true heroes are those that bring us together. We lost a true American hero today.”

Saturday afternoon, Jones tweeted out a video message:

Equal Justice Initiative Director Bryan Stevenson issued a statement:

“There is less grace and courage in the world today. No one did more to improve the justice quotient in America over the last 60 years than John Lewis. Those of us who stand on his shoulders mourn his loss but intend to honor him with our commitment to keep fighting for the racial justice he dedicated his life to achieve. I know he took great joy in seeing a new generation literally following in his footsteps on the streets of America demanding justice. We are heirs of a continuing struggle that can be overwhelming but we are more prepared, aware, and informed because of the life and legacy of John Lewis.”

Lewis represented the state of Georgia in Congress. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp posted his reaction to Lewis’s passing in a thread of tweets:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Lewis “one of the greatest heroes of American history.” “All of us were humbled to call Congressman Lewis a colleague, and are heartbroken by his passing,” Pelosi said. “May his memory be an inspiration that moves us all to, in the face of injustice, make ‘good trouble, necessary trouble.’”

She ordered flags at the U.S. Captiol to be lowered in honor of Lewis:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Lewis was “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.”

U.S. President Donald Trump issued a proclamation Saturday, ordering all flags across the country to be flown at half-staff:

“As a mark of respect for the memory and longstanding public service of Representative John Lewis, of Georgia, I hereby order, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions through July 18, 2020. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half‑staff for the same period at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighteenth day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.”

President Trump tweeted from his personal account Saturday afternoon, saying he is “Saddened to hear the news of civil rights hero John Lewis passing.”

Former U.S. presidents also reacted to the death of the congressman. Below are reactions from former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush:

The reactions to Lewis’s death haven’t just come in from the political realm. Several others from outside the political realm also took to social media to share their thoughts on the passing of the congressman:

The Montgomery Biscuits posted the following tweet honoring Lewis:

Alabama State University Athletics shared a message:

The Auburn Tigers athletics department shared a message honoring Lewis on its Twitter account:

The Atlanta Braves via Twitter, “The Atlanta Braves honor & celebrate the life and legacy of the heroic John Lewis.”

Alabama native and Atlanta Braves legend Hank Aaron on Lewis:

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