By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
Representative John Lewis (D- Georgia) spent most of his life- beginning in adolescence- fighting for equality and justice for African Americans; and while the last months of his life were spent battling a beast that may have, at times, seemed greater than racism, the justice fighter fought to the end. After announcing he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in December 2019, Lewis, 80, died on July 17.
“I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” Lewis said when announcing his cancer diagnoses.
Representative John Lewis (D- Georgia). (Official Photo/johnlewis.house.gov)
Now a true civil rights icon, a very young Lewis, organized, marched on the front lines in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and even endured police brutality from Alabama state troopers on Bloody Sunday in March 1965, from which he suffered a fractured skull. His fight for justice continued in the House of Representatives, where he has served since 1987. With such battles, stage 4 pancreatic cancer couldn’t stop the Congressman.
“So I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the Beloved Community. We still have many bridges to cross,” the Congressman said.
As a politician, Lewis’ fight for justice and human rights continued literally to the end of his life. On July 16- a day before his death- Lewis introduced H.R. 7644, which is related to reform around juvenile incarceration decisions. The Monday before his death, he introduced H.R. 7591, which is meant, “to support the health and well-being of current and former foster care youth transitioning into adulthood,” according to Lewis’ profile on Congress.gov.
Last September, during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, the AFRO spoke to Congressman Lewis about the goals for the convention, his hopes for the future and asked for advice on a better tomorrow.
Ten months later, the Congressman’s words still serve as a rallying cry for African Americans as the country navigates a pandemic, protests, systemic racism and an election season.
“More than anything, we are focused on getting people ready and prepared for the election of 2020. We want people to turn out and vote like they never voted before. And encourage as many people who would like to get involved in American politics to work and campaign, to run for office and be determined now more than ever before,” Lewis told the AFRO in September.
Even before the most recent cases of extreme police brutality and clear discrimination that sparked protests around the nation and world, Lewis was hyper aware of the importance of combatting regressive racism. “There are forces of people that want to take us back. We’ve come too far. We’ve made too much progress to go back. We want to go forward.”
Having served on the frontlines since youth, Lewis said he had seen some of the rewarding fruits of the dangerous, justice fighting labor in which he’d had a role. Despite difficulties and racist, negative narratives, Lewis encouraged young people to continue the fight.
“I see unbelievable changes, and I say to young people all the time, ‘Never become bitter. Keep the faith and keep your eyes on the prize.’ We all shall overcome,” he said confidently and encouragingly.
Lewis, who spoke to this reporter with a warm, wise candor, ended his September 2019 interview with the AFRO, with a warning to abandon hate and embrace hope- words that reverberate further in his passing.
“I think we all have to be hopeful and optimistic and never, ever get down or become hostile. And never hate, for hate is too heavy a burden to bear. That’s what Dr. King taught us.”