Local leaders respond to the loss of civil rights leader, Congressman John Lewis


VIRGINIA (WAVY) — Congressman John Lewis, known for his leadership and prominent role during the civil rights movement, passed away Friday night at the age of 80 after a six-month battle with stage four pancreatic cancer.

Lewis was often called the “Conscience of Congress” and represented Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since 1987. He, along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

An Associated Press article referred to him as “a lion of the civil rights movement” continuing, “whose bloody beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 helped galvanize opposition to racial segregation, and who went on to a long and celebrated career in Congress.”

In response to Lewis’ passing and in honor of his legacy, Governor Ralph Northam ordered flags to be flown at half-staff. The order will last until sunset on the day of Lewis’ burial.

“I do hereby order that the flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia is to be flown at half-staff over the state Capitol and all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds in the Commonwealth of Virginia in respect and memory of U.S. Representative John R. Lewis,” said Northam.

Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey was close to Lewis, particularly during the civil rights movement, and he released a statement on the college’s behalf.

“To know him was to appreciate his life’s poignant example of moral courage and moral clarity. John Lewis was an American hero who happened to be Black. I have known him since I was an undergraduate at Talladega College when he, at the time was studying at Fisk University,” said Harvey.

“He was fearless and one of the bravest men that I have ever known. John was the type of individual who had personal and respectful relationships with many individuals, including those with whom he may have disagreed.”

Lewis led one of the most celebrated commencement addresses at Hampton University in 2015 as the Keynote Speaker. He told the 847 graduates that it was their moral obligation to bring about a positive change in the world.

“You have to find a way to get in the way. Get in good trouble. Use it to bring about a non-violent revolution,” Lewis said. He dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties and building what he called “The Beloved Community in America.”

During that ceremony, Dr. Harvey conferred an Honorary Degree Doctor of Laws on Lewis.

Congresswoman Elaine Luria issued a statement following the news.

“It is with a heavy heart that I mourn the passing of the great Congressman John Lewis. Known as the ‘conscience of Congress,’ I admired that Representative Lewis always fought fearlessly for justice and his community,” she said. “His legacy as both an activist and an elected official will be remembered by generations to come, and it was my honor to serve alongside him. We will all continue to cause ‘good trouble’ in his legacy. You will be missed, Congressman Lewis.”

Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03) also released a statement after Lewis’ passing.

“I am heartbroken by the passing of John Lewis. Words cannot properly convey the loss that this is for Congress as well as the nation. John was a guiding light to all of us and was a leader in trying to make America a more perfect union,” said Scott.

“His steadfast moral leadership will be deeply missed. I send my condolences to his family and to everyone who is saddened by this immense loss. We should all be sure to make some ‘good trouble’ to honor his enormous legacy,” he continued.

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