U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Civil Rights icon, remembered one year after his death

Rep. John Lewis and Freedom Riders Historical Marker.

The life and legacy of Congressman John Lewis was celebrated as the nation commemorated the one year anniversary of his death.

The legislator, freedom fighter and justice warrior, who was famously beaten, bloodied and arrested in Selma, Alabama (and in other cities across the Jim Crow South that includes Nashville) during the struggle for civil rights and racial equality, was 80 years old.

Vice President Kamala Harris released the following statement about Lewis:

“[We mark] the one-year anniversary of the passing of Congressman John Lewis. As we mourn his loss, we reflect on the legacy of an American hero. Congressman Lewis fought tirelessly for our country’s highest ideals: freedom and justice for all, and for the right of every American to make their voice heard at the ballot box.

“I had the privilege of joining Congressman Lewis in Selma, Alabama for what would be his final walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where, 55 years earlier, he and many others were beaten bloody by state troopers as they marched for the right to vote.

“Today, the fight is not over. The right to vote remains under attack in states across our nation. And the best way to honor Congressman Lewis’s legacy is to carry on the fight by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act as well as the For the People Act—and by helping eligible voters no matter where they live get registered and vote, and have their vote counted.

“As the Congressman knew well, our democracy is stronger when everyone participate—and it is weaker when people are left out.”

John Lewis’ police mugshot after he was arrested for leading a sit-in while a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.

“John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of Georgia for 33 years—not only assumed that responsibility, he made it his life’s work,” said former President Barack Obama previously about Lewis.

“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”

On March 7, 1965, as Lewis and others journeyed across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, a mob of state troopers clad in riot gear attacked.

The authorities began their onslaught on Lewis and the other marchers using tear gas before brutally escalating the assault to bullwhips and rubber tubing that had been wrapped in barbed wire.

One of the cops attacked Lewis with a nightstick, fracturing his skull and knocking him to the ground.

In the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, Lewis praised this generation of freedom fighters. “This feels and looks so different,” he said of the Black Lives Matter movement and other ongoing demonstrations.

“It is so much more massive and all-inclusive. There will be no turning back.”

Lewis was remembered in Nashville with a number of events, including a memorial service at First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill.

“It’s where civil rights icons like James Lawson, Diane Nash, and Lewis planned the very first of the Nashville sit-ins,” said Nashville Mayor John Cooper. “John Lewis found a spiritual home at this church.”

Other events included a celebration at the historic Ryman Auditorium where former Vice President Al Gore spoke, the official dedication of John Lewis Way, and the unveiling of a historical marking in tribute to John Lewis and his fellow Freedom Riders.

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