TACOMA, Washington — In July, the country grieved the death of Congressman John Lewis. At the age of 80, the 17-term representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District lost his life to a battle against stage four pancreatic cancer. Many knew Congressman John Lewis as a leader and icon of the United States’ civil rights movement.
Congressman John Lewis’ Life in Retrospect
Born in Alabama during the era of Jim Crow, Lewis’ activism started young. From helping organize sit-ins during college to the Freedom Rides of 1961 to the Selma to Montgomery March, Lewis’ leadership, bravery and dedication to the civil rights movement are undeniably apparent. In his middle-aged and later years, Lewis continued to champion the fight for equality and black rights. Recognitions of his service include the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2001 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
Congressman Lewis’ actions have rightfully earned him widespread appreciation for his monumental contributions to the civil rights movement. Yet, many of his other contributions are largely unknown to the general public.
John Lewis: The Conscience of Congress
Lewis’ title as the “conscience of Congress” was applicable in all aspects, both domestic and international actions alike. Representative Lewis traveled to Guinea soon after gaining its independence from France to offer his assistance in the creation of the socialist nation. This was in addition to helping with the African liberation movement. Afterward, he continued to visit Liberia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt and Zambia to provide further assistance to the liberation movement.
During his time as an elected official, his fierce support of peace and equality worldwide never wavered. He was arrested at least 45 times for civil disobedience. Two of these arrests came while he protested apartheid in South Africa and two others came from him protesting genocide in Sudan.
As a member of Congress, Lewis was involved in numerous important foreign affairs organizations. In addition to being a founding member of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus, Lewis was also a member of the Caucus on Human Trafficking and many others. Some of these include the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, The Pakistan Caucus and the Turkey Caucus.
Legislation He Supported
Representative Lewis has also sponsored and co-sponsored numerous pieces of important legislation, such as the Concurrent Resolution on the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, which he introduced in October 1992. Here, Lewis advocated for the United States to aid Somalia as it struggled against drought, famine and civil war.
Lewis also introduced the U.S. Recommitment to International Human and Civil Rights resolution. He further pushed the U.S. to ratify international conventions that address forced labor and women’s and children’s rights. Furthermore, he persistently urged the House and Senate to update the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to effectively combat modern-day slavery around the world.
More recently, Congressman Lewis had sponsored and fought tirelessly for the passage of the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative Act. This was an effort to provide educational opportunities for scholars from the U.S. and India about social justice and civil and human rights.
In essence, Congressman John Lewis leaves behind a powerful legacy as an American civil rights icon. But he was even more than that. He was a resilient protector of human rights around the world. He was also a staunch believer in our responsibility to fight for equality and justice around the world. As we mourn this loss, let us remember John Lewis for all that he was, while also honoring his commitment to creating a more peaceful world. Rest in Power, Congressman John Lewis.
– Yesha Shah