Civil Rights Icon Congressman John Lewis Dead At 80

U.S. Representative and civil rights icon John Robert Lewis passed away Friday night at the age of 80 after a six-month battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

The democrat Georgia Congressman was born in 1940 and raised on a cotton farm right outside of Troy in Pike County Alabama. Lewis grew up attending segregated public schools and from a very young age, had a passion for non-violent activism and civil rights.

Accompanying Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and four other civil rights activist leaders, Lewis was only 23 years old when he helped organize the 1963 March on Washington right outside of the Lincoln memorial. He was a keynote speaker before King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream Speech” and is also the last surviving speaker.

In 1965 at the age of 25, Lewis led over 600 protestors in the Selma-to-Montgomery march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to demonstrate the desire of African-Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Known as “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis had his skull fractured when Alabama State Troopers and county locals attacked the unarmed marchers after they passed over the county line.

“Sometimes when I look back and think about it, how did we do what we did? How did we succeed? We didn’t have a website. We didn’t have a cellular telephone, but I felt when we were sitting in at those lunch counter stools, or going on the Freedom Ride, or marching from Selma to Montgomery, there was a power and a force. God Almighty was there with us,” Lewis had stated when reminiscing of his civil rights career.

After serving on the front lines for over 50 years, Lewis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by the nation’s first African-American president, former President Barack Obama. He also won a National Book Award for co-writing a series of graphic novels about the civil rights movement. Lewis has been described as the “moral conscience” of Congress because of his life dedicated to his nonviolent fight for civil rights.

“It is with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness that we announce the passing of U.S. Rep. John Lewis,” Lewis’s family said in a statement. “He was honored and respected as the conscience of the US Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the on-going struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He dedicated his entire life to non-violent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America.”

Lillian Miles Lewis, Lewis’ wife of 44 years, died in 2012 on New Year’s Eve. They are survived by one son, John Miles Lewis.

“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 in a statement after announcing he had cancer.