WASHINGTON -- John Lewis, who carried the struggle against racial discrimination from Southern battlegrounds of the 1960s to the halls of Congress, has died. He was 80.
The congressman and civil rights icon had been undergoing treatment in his battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Lewis was the last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
He was best known for leading 600 protesters in the 1965 Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Lewis was knocked to the ground and beaten by state troopers.
Televised images forced the country’s attention on racial oppression.
“Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history: Congressman John Lewis, the Conscience of the Congress," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday. “Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation – from the determination with which he met discrimination at lunch counters and on Freedom Rides, to the courage he showed as a young man facing down violence and death on Edmund Pettus Bridge, to the moral leadership he brought to the Congress for more than 30 years," said Pelosi in a statement.
A Democrat from Atlanta, he won his U.S. House seat in 1986. In Congress, Lewis was respected by members on both sides of the aisle as he fought for freedom and justice for all.
“In the halls of the Capitol, he was fearless in his pursuit of a more perfect union, whether through his Voter Empowerment Act to defend the ballot, his leadership on the Equality Act to end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans or his work as a Senior Member of the Ways and Means Committee to ensure that we invest in what we value as a nation," Pelosi said.
Throughout his life Lewis received numerous awards for his work and in 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Lewis the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S.
“Generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind, an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now,” said Obama as he presented the medal.