Civil rights legend John Lewis, the Georgia congressman who died Friday, touched the lives of many Illinois members of Congress and former President Barack Obama, who met him when he was a student in law school. The two last talked about six weeks ago.
Freshman Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., met Lewis in 2006 when she was intern and then found herself in the “surreal” position of serving with her hero after she was elected to Congress in 2018.
In tributes on Twitter, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., posted pictures of themselves and Lewis taken on June 22, 2016 at a House Democratic sit-in on the House floor designed to pressure Republicans for votes on gun control measures.
Democrats were looking for an act of defiance and Kelly and another member, after consulting with Lewis, the civil rights giant, decided on the sit-in tactic.
Schakowsky added to her photo, pictured above, an iconic phase associated with Lewis: ‘Make Good Trouble.”
On Saturday, Schakowsky told the Sun-Times that with the death of Lewis — coming as a new civil rights movement is gaining strength in the wake of the killing of George Floyd — “Hopefully in a way, it puts more pressure on people who don’t want to deal with justice issues.”
Freshman Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., on Saturday recalled going to Selma and Montgomery with Lewis last March; each year Lewis has taken colleagues on a pilgrimage South to educate them about the civil rights era.
“Thinking about that trip a lot this morning,” Casten said on Twitter. Last March after the trip, in an essay he wrote he wondered how Lewis could “be so kind to members who voted against HR4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act? How can he be so willing to work with people who have used their platforms to spread hatred and reinforce the narrative of inequality?”
When Obama and Lewis talked about six weeks ago, the Obama Foundation said it was after a virtual town hall hosted by My Brother’s Keeper Alliance — an organization whose roots are in the Obama White House. The conversation “focused on the mental toll racism takes on people of color,” the foundation said on Saturday.
At the town hall, the foundation said, “In a powerful moment” Lewis described “the courage he found in his faith and how this act of self-care allowed him to summon the strength he needed to keep fighting. It’s a testament to how he lived his life—and the example he set for future generations.”
Obama and others from Illinois who served with him in Congress remember Lewis. Here are their tributes:
Former President Barack Obama
For Obama’s full statement: Click here.
Excerpt: “In so many ways, John’s life was exceptional. But he never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country might do. He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, a longing to do what’s right, a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect. And it’s because he saw the best in all of us that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in that long journey towards a more perfect union.
“….It’s fitting that the last time John and I shared a public forum was at a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists who were helping to lead this summer’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Afterwards, I spoke to him privately, and he could not have been prouder of their efforts — of a new generation standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation intent on voting and protecting the right to vote, a new generation running for political office. I told him that all those young people — of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — they were his children. They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books.
“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill.
“John Lewis was a superb man and incalculable contributor to the history of our nation. A man who rose from humble beginnings to become an American icon.
“We will certainly miss his trumpeting voice, calling our nation to higher heights and a greater estimation of ourselves, as a freedom loving, God fearing people.
“He and Lillian are finally together again, dancing in heaven. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and to the people he loved, as well as the people who loved him.”
Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill.
“It’s hard to put the sweeping legacy of John Lewis into mere words. He was a man who, for generations, fought for justice with his mind, words, body, and sometimes—for those lucky enough to know him personally—with just the weight of his presence in a room.
“I first met him in 2006 as an intern, and it was surreal to become his colleague in 2019. I always felt an overwhelming sense that there was so much to learn from him, and never enough time.
“He spent his entire life, up until the very end, fighting for what was right and just. He believed in an America that could progress, be better, and live up to her highest ideals; and he lived his life fighting to make it so. May we revere him, may we continue to learn from him, and may we forever fight for the America he believed in.”
Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., via Twitter
“Devastated at the loss of my friend, @repjohnlewis. His example will forever challenge us to seek a brighter future for all.”
Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill.
Casten on Twitter linked to an essay he wrote after his March trip to Selma and Montgomery last March. He wrote then, “It is my great privilege to serve with John Lewis. I am continually astounded by his grace and tolerance. How can he be so kind to members who voted against HR4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act? How can he be so willing to work with people who have used their platforms to spread hatred and reinforce the narrative of inequality? How can he stay so gracious in the face of indignities that make me – a safe, privileged, white man – so angry.”
On Twitter Casten said, “The world is so much brighter today than it would have been without John Lewis. We are all a little better, a little more decent, a little more tolerant for every day we watched his example and tried, in our imperfect way to emulate him. RIP to a giant among men.
Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., via Twitter
“Rest in love my friend.”
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.
“John Lewis’s life defies description. He was a son of sharecroppers who grew to be a titan of the Civil Rights Movement and the conscience of the United States Congress. He was beaten bloody during the Freedom Rides and yet offered forgiveness to the Klansman who had attacked him. He taught us all how to fight for the soul of our democracy and, most importantly, how to get into ‘good trouble.’
“John Lewis simply never tired of fighting for what he knew to be right. Just weeks ago, he joined protestors in the streets in calling for justice for George Floyd and an end to systemic racism. The passion of those protestors and their dedication to nonviolence is already a tribute to the indelible legacy of this icon.
“We are a better country because of his leadership and I will never forget what a profound honor it was to serve beside him.”
Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill.
“Last night we lost a hero, a legend, a fighter. John Lewis was an extraordinary man who exemplified the persistence of those who know the fight for justice is, as he said, not the fight of one day, but the struggle of a lifetime.
“We all know he was a central figure in the fight for civil rights. But he was also an unconditional ally in the fight for the rights of immigrants. He firmly believed the United States immigration system should reflect our nation’s commitment to justice, decency and human rights.
“Our country is much better off because of his courage and his indefatigable search for justice for all the people who couldn’t speak for themselves.
“It was an incredible honor to serve in Congress with John Lewis. My thoughts and prayers are with his son John-Miles, his family and his staff. We will honor his life and legacy by continuing to speak up, speak out and get in good trouble. Necessary trouble.
“Rest in power, Mr. Lewis.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., via Twitter
“One of the great honors of my life was to serve alongside John Lewis. He inspired me everyday, and I will miss him dearly. Rest in power, my dear friend.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., via Twitter
“It was a true honor to serve in Congress with @repjohnlewis & my heartfelt prayers are with his family. An American icon, his legacy of courage & sacrifice will continue to inspire us, his moral integrity & dedication to justice will continue to be our guiding light.”
Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., via Twitter
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill.
“America has lost a hero, a patriot, and most of all, a brave, kind man who devoted his life to justice. I’m proud to have been able to call John Lewis a colleague and a friend, but far more, I’m proud to live in an America he helped make possible. The progress our country made on civil rights in his lifetime is a testament to his leadership and those he partnered with and inspired in leading our country forward. John Lewis blessed America with his life’s work, and now we are entrusted with carrying that work forward.
“On a personal note, John Lewis was very kind to my family during our visits with him, and he even visited Chicago to spend time with my constituents, supporters, and me. He was the same man in private that he was in public: thoughtful, affable, and incredibly generous in spirit. John Lewis is one for the ages.”
Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., via Twitter
“Tonight, we mourn the loss of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis. He dedicated his incredible life to justice, fairness, and equality. America is a better place because of him. RIP
“Tonight, we mourn the loss of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis. He dedicated his incredible life to justice, fairness, and equality. America is a better place because of him. RIP”
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. via Twitter
“When touring the Smithsonian a few years ago, my son asked who this bleeding man was in a picture taken during the Civil Rights Movement. I told him that was John Lewis and I get the privilege of serving with him. RIP John. The House will miss you greatly.”
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.
“Last night, we lost a friend, a hero and one of the best among us. Rep. John Lewis taught us what it truly means to fight for what is right, especially where there are those who would fight against you.
“Our nation and our people would not be who we are today without the courage and grace of Rep. Lewis. And as we navigate an uncertain future, it is the light of his memory that must guide us.
“Last night, we lost a hero, and today, we are a nation in mourning. But we cannot let our mourning deter us from the work to which Rep. Lewis’ life was dedicated. In his memory, we must knock down every barrier to the ballot box and restore the Voting Rights Act. It cannot be our last step, but for Rep. Lewis, it must be our next.”
“I will miss my friend. But I will remain steadfast in carrying on his legacy.”
Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., via Twitter
“Saddened to hear of the passing of my congressional colleague and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis. Prayers to his family and all who were touched through his service to country and community.”
via Chicago Sun-Times
July 18, 2020 at 09:10PM