John Lewis: Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey lead tributes to civil rights hero


Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey have led tributes from across US society to the civil rights leader and Georgia congressman John Lewis, who died on Friday evening at the age of 80.


Lewis, who had been suffering from pancreatic cancer, dedicated his life to the fight for racial equality and justice and worked closely with Dr Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960s, the high water mark of the civil rights movement in the US. He became a congressman in 1987.
He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” Obama wrote in a Medium post. “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.”
Winfrey released footage of Lewis speaking during a recorded conversation between the two last week. Posting the footage, Winfrey wrote: “He sounded weak but was surprisingly more alert than we expected. I had a final chance to tell him what I’ve said every time I’ve been in his presence: ‘Thank you for your courage leading the fight for freedom. My life as it is would not have been possible without you.’
“I know for sure he heard me. I felt good about that. He understood and was so gracious.”
In the interview, shot to mark a CNN documentary entitled John Lewis: Good Trouble, the congressman said: “I tried to do what was right, fair and just. When I was growing up in rural Alabama, my mother always said, ‘Boy, don’t get in trouble … but I saw those signs that said ‘white’, ‘colored’, and I would say, ‘Why?’
“And she would say again, ‘Don’t get in trouble. You will be beaten. You will go to jail. You may not live. But … the words of Dr King and the actions of Rosa Parks inspired me to get in trouble. And I’ve been getting in trouble ever since. Good trouble. Necessary trouble.”

Lewis was a prominent figure in many key events of the civil rights era, prominent among them the March on Washington in 1963 and a voting rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 on what would come to be known as Bloody Sunday.
State troopers attacked peaceful protesters with clubs and tear gas. A police officer knocked Lewis to the ground and hit him in the head with a nightstick, then struck him again as he tried to get up, he would later testify in court.
Images of Lewis being beaten are some of the most enduring of the era. Film of events in Selma was shown on national television, galvanizing support for the Voting Rights Act.
Pettus, for whom the bridge is named, was a slaveholding member of the Confederate army, a leader in the Klu Klux Klan and a man “bent on preserving slavery and segregation”, Smithsonian Magazine wrote.
A petition to change the name of the bridge to memorialize Lewis now has more than 400,000 signatures.
Lewis was the son of sharecroppers in Alabama but represented a Georgia district for 33 years in the US House of Representatives. In one of his last public appearances, he walked a street in front of the White House in Washington painted with a Black Lives Matter mural, a tribute to a movement he saw as a continuation of his fight for racial equality.
Politicians paid tribute on Saturday, among them former presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George W Bush, House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and, with a tweet and an order for flags to fly at half-staff, Donald Trump.
Ava DuVernay, the academy award-nominated director of the historical drama film Selma, a retelling of the 1965 march, wrote that she would “never forget what you taught me and what you challenged me to be”.
“Better. Stronger. Bolder. Braver. God bless you, Ancestor John Robert Lewis of Troy, Alabama. Run into His arms.”

Viola Davis, the first black actress to win a Tony, an Emmy and an Oscar, thanked Lewis for his “commitment to change” and “courage”. In one of Davis’s most famous roles, in the 2011 film The Help, she portrayed a maid in the Jim Crow south, a role she has since said catered to a white audience not “ready for the truth” about the black experience.
Stacey Abrams, who lost a race to become Georgia’s first black female governor after voting rolls were purged by her Republican opponent, called Lewis “a griot of this modern age”. Abrams’ organization Fair Fight continues to work to secure voting rights, a central demand of marchers in Selma.
Minister Bernice A King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King, said Lewis “did, indeed, fight the good fight and get into a lot of good trouble”, thereby ensuring he “served God and humanity well”

Credit: The Guardian


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *