John Lewis, lion of civil rights and Congress, dies at 80

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Atlanta

John Lewis, a lion of the civil rights movement whose bloody beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 helped galvanize opposition to racial segregation, and who went on to a long and celebrated career in Congress. He died at the age of 80.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed Lewis’ passing late Friday night, calling him “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.”’
The condolences for Lewis were bipartisan. 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. “
The announcement of his death came just hours after the passing of the Rev. C.T. Vivian, another civil rights leader who died early Friday at 95.
Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, a group led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that had the greatest impact on the movement. He was best known for leading some 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and its blood so that it might live up to its promise,” President Barack Obama said after Lewis’ death. “Early on, he embraced the principles of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as the means to bring about real change in this country.”
Lewis joined King and four other civil rights leaders in organizing the 1963 March on Washington. He spoke to the vast crowd just before King delivered his epochal “I Have a Dream” speech.
Lewis was born on Feb. 21, 1940, outside the town of Troy, in Pike County, Alabama. He grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools.
As a boy, he wanted to be a minister, and practiced his oratory on the family chickens. Denied a library card because of the colour of his skin, he became an avid reader, and could cite obscure historical dates and details even in his later years. Lewis turned to politics in 1981, when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. Lewis said he’d been arrested 40 times in the 1960s, five more as a congressman. Lewis’ wife of four decades, Lillian Miles, died in 2012. They had one son, John Miles Lewis.—WP

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