U.S. civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis dies aged 80

FILE PHOTO: Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

African American icon and civil and human rights activist John Lewis died on Friday aged 80, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Lewis, who was also a Congressman from Atlanta, said in December 2019 that he had advanced pancreatic cancer.

Pelosi described Lewis “a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation.”

“Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history,” Pelosi said of Lewis, whom she once labelled “the conscience of the Congress.”

Lewis was one of the leaders of the March on Washington in 1963 in which Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech.

He was also a founding member of the Freedom Riders, a group which became one of America’s most powerful voices for justice and equality. It fought the segregation of the United States transportation system in the early 1960s.

He suffered serious injuries, including a fractured skull, on “Bloody Sunday” in 1965 while leading a peace march in Selma, Alabama, to agitate for African Americans’ voting rights when state troopers attacked the marchers.

Leaders from across the political divide in America paid tribute to Lewis, who rose from humble beginnings as a son of sharecroppers and went on to become a leading figure in the fight against discrimination and racial injustice.

“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,” former U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement.

“We have lost a giant. John Lewis gave all he had to redeem America’s unmet promise of equality and justice for all, and to create a place for us to build a more perfect union together,” former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a joint statement.

“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,” Republican Majority Leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell said.