A Tribute to Congressman John Lewis

By Martin Luther King III 

Today, the United States, and the world, has lost a true champion for human rights and democracy. My wife Arndrea and our daughter Yolanda Renee, and I express our deepest condolences to his family. I knew Congressman John Lewis all my life. He was someone that my mother and my father told me I could always trust. He was always there for me as a colleague, a friend, and a mentor.

If there was anyone who ever personified the courage of his convictions -- the courage to endure jail, beatings, threats of lynching, mob violence, police brutality in the name of justice -- it was John Lewis. John lived the power of nonviolence in action, even in the face of state-sanctioned racist violence. He was a true Drum Major for peace and justice.

John Lewis was a pro-democracy activist who never wavered in his commitment to non-violent social change. He lived a purposeful life. For many of us, he was a living and breathing moral compass who worked each and every day to leave this world a little better than he found it.  

Just one week after John Lewis was beaten on Bloody Sunday, he sat with my father and watched President Lyndon Johnson address a joint session of Congress and promise to pass the Voting Rights Act, saying unexpectedly, “We shall overcome.” My father wept. With John’s help, the Voting Rights Act was passed three months later. His legacy lives on today as we watch peaceful protesters marching against violence, standing up and speaking out and getting into, what he referred to as “good trouble.” Our greatest tribute to him will be to vote “like we have never voted before,” as he was known to say. Registering, voting, reinstating the Voting Rights Act, and fighting new attempts to disenfranchise voters, would be the greatest tribute we can offer to my dear friend, who shed blood to help secure these rights for all.

He never stopped fighting for freedom, justice, and equality, the hallmarks of the Beloved Community. Even towards the end, he continued to struggle for social justice and to live his values by supporting the next generation of protestors, by working to preserve voting rights, to make people free from gun violence, and to adopt pro-poor policies. He worked every day to make America what it ought to be, a multi-racial democracy where people’s rights to breathe clean air, drink clean water and to live in a safe environment are protected and everyone’s rights are acknowledged and respected. 

Congressman Lewis joined me in 2009 leading a delegation of U.S. civil rights activists and public officials to multiple cities in India, including Mumbai, to observe the 50th anniversary of my father’s first visit to that country to trace the history nonviolent social action. On that occasion, Congressman Lewis reminded our host that our struggle for justice and equality has no boundaries, echoing my father, he said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

From the time of his days as a student at Fisk University, to his leadership of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and as the youngest person to speak at the March On Washington, John always believed that it was necessary to get into some “good trouble.”

Through his life’s work, John demonstrated that Black Lives Matter, because he believed that African Americans, like all people, were born free and equal in dignity and rights. The next generation is already picking up the mantle of John Lewis and my father and we need to do everything in our power to complete the work that they started together.

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