John Lewis
(1940–2020)

John Lewis, by Clara Lang-Ezekiel, 2020

 

Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation, John Lewis

Claiming John Lewis, SNCC Legacy Project (SLP)

Eulogy for John Lewis, Rev. James Lawson

My Friend John Lewis, by Danny Lyon
New York Review, August 21, 2020

 

As remembered by Bruce Hartford
July 11, 2020

I wanted to say a few words about John. I never worked with him directly. In my four years in the movement I might've been in two or three meetings where he was present — big meetings. He spoke, but he and I didn't interact.

I was on the March on Washington when he gave his speech — which is not famous like Dr. King's speech — but it's still the other one that I remember. I remember his speech because, for me, whenever I hear the phrase "speak truth to power," his speech is the one that defines the concept for me. Because, he called out the Kennedy administration to their face and criticized the flaws and weaknesses in the administration's proposed civil rights bill. He laid it on the line.

It's so interesting. I was too far away to see this on the day, but later on, watching movies and newsreels, and watching the movie about the march on Washington, I saw that for all the other speakers, all the officials and notables on the platform, white and black, applauded and shook the speaker's hand. But when John finished, only the blacks, only the Afro-Americans jumped up and applauded and shook his hand. The whites sat stony faced. I'm not talking about Movement whites. I'm talking about Lord Cardinal Pooh-bah, George labor-leader guy, politician Huffnpuff, and the other bigshots. They just looked away. But, for the African-Americans on the audience, the only speech they cheered more fervently was Dr King's.

John was not a radical. I mean he was not a political lefty. And at certain points in my life I was disappointed or critical of him for not being that. But since I'm no longer a leftist myself, that's no longer an issue for me. But even at that time, when I was in my most radical, militant, "revolutionary," political-lefty, dogmatist, ideological phase, I always recognized that John held a moral center that he never wavered from. Yes, he achieved and doggedly held a big position. He enjoyed being in Congress. He took the perks and all that. But he was principled, he served his district and the people first.

There were times, and I follow legislation, there were times when he was one of the few — the very few — in Congress who sat up and said, "No"... who stood up and said, "No, no, I ain't going along with this " Of course, he said it in John's way, he wouldn't use that word. He was always very courteous, very light, very preacherish. He wanted, I think to be a preacher. He had that in him.

When we lose John, we'll have lost a giant.

 

As remembered by Miriam Cohen Glickman
July 11, 2020

I have great admiration for John, but while I was in SNCC, a bunch of us thought he was trying to get himself killed. No one else would do some of the things he did because of the danger involved. Instead of saying, "Oh, he has so much courage," we thought, "What is going on with him?" One of his friends in the Movement once asked him, "John, why do you keep allowing these racists to beat you over your head?"

 

As remembered by Cathy Cade
July 11, 2020

I'm remembering John Lewis, civil rights leader and Congressman for 33 years, who died July 17. I'm grateful for the friendship he showed me in the office of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta in 1963 during a short lived time when there were few friendships offered by Blacks in SNCC to Whites in SNCC. I believe this was because Blacks wanted to express their independence. I was close to John in the Atlanta office after I left Albany, Georgia. He was working there. I was working there. This wasn't a sexual relationship, but there was a lot of affection. It was a time in SNCC when there wasn't a lot of emotional closeness between blacks and whites in SNCC. The closeness that he showed to me, meant a lot to me. That's what I've been able to dig up.

 

As remembered by Marion Kwan
July 12, 2020

I never met John but I believe I know him. I sense John Lewis when I see injustices in Chinese-American settlements and in anti-Chinese or anti-other races and sexual orientations and in places of religious intolerances. John is my mentor. He is not Asian, but he acts like one: he is the all-American who fights for everyone's American Dream.

It's okay to be an Asian American "Troublemaker" and go make good trouble until all of America listens and changes its non-American ways. John Lewis showed me how I would eventually feel about BLM.

 

As remembered by Jennifer Lawson
July 18, 2020

Sorry to hear this news, although it was anticipated. I'm glad that John is being recognized widely at this moment for his longstanding commitment to civil and human rights.

Our SNCC roster of those who have passed grows longer, but we can be grateful that so many of those remaining are doing so much to continue the legacy that John represented.

Even more powerful is the presence of all the people around the country, and indeed around the world, protesting, marching, and voting for change, even amidst a pandemic.

This is John's legacy too. One of the last images I saw of John was of him standing on Black Lives Matter Plaza in DC. "A Luta Continua" — The struggle continues — Thank you, John, for all you contributed.

 

As remembered by Karen Spellman
July 18, 2020

John was a man of great courage- a strong force for justice. He fought the good fight. Now may he Rest In Peace.

 

As remembered by Geri Monice
July 18, 2020

That image Jennifer mentioned — John Lewis courageously in the plaza for Black Lives Matter — says much: who and what he was, and who he will always be.

May he Rest In Peace!

 

As remembered by Derrick Johnson, NAACP
July 18, 2020

Late last night, I received the terrible news that Congressman John Lewis, one of the most inspiring civil rights heroes of our time, had passed away.

Today, the NAACP family, and the entire nation mourn his passing with sorrow in our hearts, but a conviction in our knowledge that his legacy will live on for generations to come.

 

As remembered by James Kates
July 18, 2020

John's death shook me, although it was not unexpected. I remember one particularly exuberant night in New York in the fall of 1964, him sprawled across my lap in the back of my brother's (full) car as we drive downtown to hear Nina Simone at the Village Gate. When the management saw we were a boisterous lot of SNCCpeople, they ushered us into the front, and Simone sang a song ("Don't you go marchin' with the NAACP") especially dedicated that night to John. The last dealings I had with him personally were around the legal release of rights for Letters from Mississippi. C.T. Vivian, too, although not in my personal orbit.

We have heard the chimes at midnight.

 

As remembered by Bob Zellner and Pamela Smith-Zellner
July 18, 2020

REMEMBER JOHN LEWIS Bob and John were in SNCC together. Bob also worked on John's Congressional campaign when Congressman Lewis ran for Public office in Atlanta.

Bob and Pamela work with several youth leadership groups, currently we are working with Shirts Across America, high school aged students who have been sending four delegations each year to New Orleans to rebuild houses in the 9th Ward. Since 2007 they have financed 16 homes in NOLA and worked to rebuild 200.

"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble." — John Lewis

I woke up this morning with my mind on freedom, thinking about the incredible life of my friend and leader John Lewis. Most people don't get to know and work with a truly historically great person. We have recently lost a number of comrades like Connie Curry and Julian Bond. Yesterday news came that "the movement" lost two more giants, C.T. Vivian and John Lewis. Pamela and I learned of John's death last night in the midst of some movement work we are doing. We sat on the couch in our living room in Fairhope, Alabama and cried.

It is early morning now and I have an urge to sit down with some remaining comrades from SNCCC and the Civil Rights struggle to talk about John. John never held himself out to be a fine theoretician of revolution, nor a great orator like, Dr. King. He was content to be a common man, humble, just doing what he can. John, a man of action, was a perfect young leader for the youth uprising of the early sixties, the most militant of the March on Washington speakers in 1963. His fame around the world made America look good. Not like our nation's shattered reputation today.

Most movement folks will agree that john Lewis in Congress made us all proud. In a corrupt profession — Politics, in a swampy corrupt location, Washington, D.C., he chose not to be corrupt. Power seems always to corrupt but John resisted as he resisted other evils in American life.

SNCC, with John's leadership, was the original Black Lives Matter movement. Bernice Reagon, SNCC organizer and founder of SWEET HONEY in THE ROCK, wrote Ella's Song, a freedom song articulating the belief that "We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers' sons, is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers' sons, we cannot rest."

I was very close to John. We have similar names — John Robert Lewis and John Robert Zellner, and we grew up in the same area of southeast Alabama. A little white boy and a little Black both experiencing life on Sharecropper farms. We came early to SNCC with similar church backgrounds, sharing a belief in the power of nonviolent direction action. We were both mentored by MLK and Ms. Rosa Parks, thereafter we worked in some of the same areas of the deep South.

John Lewis has given us our marching orders. Keep on keeping on. Never give up the struggle. Quitting is not an option.

Thank you, we love you, John.

 

As remembered by Leslie-Burl McLemore
July 19, 2020

I attended my first SNCC meeting when Chuck McDew was chairman. John Lewis was the person that personified the "glory" days of SNCC. The visible role of John and the behind the scene role of Jim Forman represented the most productive years of the organization.

Rest in peace and power, John. We must carry on in your name and the names of freedom fighters known and unknown!

 

As remembered by Carol Ruth Silver
July 20, 2020

REMEMBERING JOHN LEWIS -- The Voting Rights Act of 2020

John Lewis was a Freedom Rider, a Congressman, a lifelong activist for the civil rights of all people — not just for African-Americans but the LGBTQ community as well, and as well for the rights of women, and the disabled and other marginalized groups.

We will remember John Lewis, along with Rev. C.T. Vivian, who passed the same day — he was one of John Lewis' mentors, who organized the Freedom Rides and inspired John Lewis.

But what will we DO to honor these titans of the Civil Rights Movement? What can we do right now?

We can join in the effort to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020, which was already passed as H.R. 4 by the House of Representatives with John Lewis as a sponsor, and has been for months bottled up in the Senate.

Listen here to Senator Kamala Harris:

For so many years, Black Americans did not have the right to vote. But in 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law granting Black Americans that basic right.

However in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, effectively undoing its purpose.

Last year, John Lewis along with other House Democrats passed HR.4, a bill that would reverse the Supreme Court's damage and restore the Voting Rights Act.

Sadly, this bill is still collecting dust on Mitch McConnell's desk he refuses to bring it up for a vote even now. That's why today we're calling on Mitch McConnell to honor the life and legacy of John Lewis by bringing the Voting Rights Act immediately to the Senate floor for a vote and renaming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020.

Call your Congressperson, your Senator, your sports idol, your social media idol — let this be the banner for every protest march now until it is effective — start an online petition, write an op- ed: The vehicle is already there to reverse the pattern of voter suppression, to make John Lewis's legacy real. Senators, Act Nowmpass HR.4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020!

 

As remembered by Daphne Muse
July 30, 2020

The voice and power of SNCC had a front-row seat in Congress for 33 years through John Lewis. Through Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and as a Veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, the presence of SNCC in Congress still remains. Although I attended the March on Washington despite my supervisor on my summer job with the Agency for International Development (AID) threatening to fire me if I did, I was so overwhelmed by the amazing outpouring and the magnitude of the voices on that stage and had no idea of the role the speakers would play in shaping the history of the country and some of the world. It also was my first introduction to so many who would be integral to the shaping of my life.

While I did not know or never met Lewis, even though he graduated in my class at Fisk in 1967, I realize that he came into his political formation as a result of his comrades in struggle including Jennifer Lawson, Judy Richardson, Courtland Cox, Ralph Featherstone, Charlie Cobb, Freddie Greene Biddles, Karen Spelman, Stokeley, Willie Ricks, Ms. Ella Baker, Juadine Henderson, Bernard Lafayette, the Freedom Singers, Bruce Hartford, Charles Sherrod, Lena Sherrod, Bob Moses, Joyce Ladner, Connie Curry, and so many others. The magnitude of this loss will continue to reverberate for years to come. I am confident that others who came into formation as a result of the legacy of SNCC will hold forth in the halls of Congress and magnify the voices, legislate policies and claim victories for the freedom of our people.

Go well,
Daphne Muse
The Seasoned Elder
Writer, Poet, and Cultural Broker


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