John Lewis, the civil rights hero and US Democratic congressman, has died at the age of 80.
Lewis, the son of sharecroppers from Alabama, became a prominent leader of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. A founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he became its chair in 1963, and helped organise the Match on Washington, when Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I have a dream” speech.
Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the “Big Six” civil rights activists, a group led by King that had the greatest impact on the movement. He was best known for leading some 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965.
He was walking at the head of the march with his hands tucked in the pockets of his overcoat when he was knocked to the ground and beaten by police. His skull was fractured, and nationally televised images of the brutality forced the country’s attention on racial oppression in the South.
Within days, King led more marches in the state, and President Lyndon Johnson soon was pressing Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. The bill became law later that year, removing barriers that had barred black people from voting.
Lewis was elected as the congressman for Georgia’s 5th district in 1987 and held the office until his death. He announced he was being treated for stage 4 pncreatic cancer in December last year.
“I have been in some kind of fight – for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life,” he said at the time. “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”
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