US Representative John Lewis, who fought at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and then spent three decades “as a conscience of Congress”, died on Friday aged 80.
Although no official cause of death has been given, Lewis announced in December that he is receiving treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He said he discovered the cancer during a routine medical examination.
Lewis had vowed to continue representing Georgia’s 5th District in Congress, saying he would fight cancer like he fought for civil rights.
“Although I am clear-headed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases, that the treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were. and that I have a chance to fight. ,” he said.
On June 4, he told Gayle King about CBS this morning that he felt like he was getting better. “I have a wonderful doctor and a nurse, and everyone is taking good care of me,” he said. “I am very optimistic and hopeful.”
Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive cancer that usually has few symptoms early on until the cancer is advanced. Because doctors rarely find pancreatic cancer in its infancy, it is one of the deadliest cancers. In stage IV pancreatic cancer, the cancer has metastasized or spread to distant organs.
About 9% of people with pancreatic cancer live at least 5 years after diagnosis. But the 5-year survival rate is much better – 34% – if it has not spread beyond the pancreas. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Lewis had refused to disclose his personal treatment, but had recently been hospitalized in Atlanta.
Pancreatic cancer made headlines this week. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being treated for a recurrence and game show host Alex Trebek says he’s battling cancer as well.
Lewis was born on February 21, 1940, outside of Troy, AL, where his parents were sharecroppers. Inspired by the boycott of the Montgomery buses led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis went to Fisk University in Nashville and organized sit-ins in separate counters.
Lewis embarked on the struggle for civil rights and became a confidant of King. He was one of the first Freedom Riders, president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the youngest speaker at the historic Washington March in August 1963.
In March 1965, Lewis and his fellow civil rights leader Hosea Williams led peaceful protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL, in what has been called “Bloody Sunday”. A brutal attack by soldiers from the state of Alabama was filmed and helped convince Congress to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Lewis was seriously injured that day.
Lewis was elected to Congress in 1987, representing the 5th District of Georgia, which includes much of Atlanta. In a statement announcing his death, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called Lewis a “titan of the civil rights movement” and a “conscience of Congress.”
Tributes pour in from national leaders.
“I first met John when I was in law school and told him he was one of my heroes,” said former President Barack Obama. “Years later, when I was elected US Senator, I told him I was standing on his shoulders. When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him at the inauguration stand before taking the oath and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made. facts.
“He has made an indelible mark on history through his quest to make our nation fairer,” said former president Jimmy Carter. “John has never backed down from what he called the ‘good trouble’ to lead our nation on the path of human and civil rights. Everything he did, he did in a spirit of love.
“As a young man walking for equality in Selma, Alabama, John has responded to brutal violence with courageous hope,” said former President George W. Bush. “And throughout his career as a civil rights leader and public servant, he has worked to make our country a more perfect union. America can better honor the memory of John as it continues on its path to freedom and justice for all. “
Lewis’s family released this statement, according to WSB-TV in Atlanta.
“It is with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness that we announce the death of the American representative John Lewis. He was honored and respected as a conscience of the United States Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was an ardent champion of the ongoing struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He has devoted his entire life to nonviolent activism and has been a strong advocate for the fight for equal justice in America. He will be sorely missed. “
Our sincere thanks to