Tributes have poured in from across the borough following the death of civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis on July 17. Lewis, who was born on Feb. 21, 1940, succumbed to Stage 4 pancreatic cancer at the age of 80.
The outspoken Democratic congressman, who represented Georgia’s 5th district in the United States Congress for 34 uninterrupted years, was chairman of the United States House of Representatives’ House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee. He was considered “an apostle of nonviolence.”
Brooklyn Democratic Councilmember Mathieu Eugene on July 26 honored the life and legacy of Lewis, saying he “empowered all of us with his vision of respect and the betterment of our society for generations to come.”
“Today, the world paid tribute to an icon of the civil rights movement, Congressman John Lewis, who was honored in Selma, Alabama for the personal sacrifices he made towards achieving human equality,” said Eugene, the first Haitian to be elected to New York City Council, on Sunday, when a memorial service was held for Lewis in Selma, Alabama.
Eugene, who represents portions of Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Park and Prospect Lefferts Gardens, credits Lewis, in part, for his participation in local politics.
“As someone who was born and raised in Haiti, and the first Haitian-American elected to the government in New York, I stand on the shoulders of John Lewis, because of his unrelenting determination to end discrimination and injustice,” Eugene said. “I am truly humbled by the immense struggle that he underwent to make my journey, and the journey of so many of my colleagues possible in the United States.
“On the several occasions when I met with John Lewis, I was moved by his resolve in the pursuit of justice for all people,” he continued. “His wisdom and sagacity were deeply inspiring and continue to influence my advocacy for equal rights. As a culture and society, let us continue to further his legacy of pursuing human equity.”
A cross-section of influential United States legislators on Monday paid their respects to Lewis in the Capitol Rotunda before his flag-draped casket was moved the Capital building in Washington, D.C. so he could be honored by the public.
In paying tribute to Lewis, fellow Brooklyn Democratic Congresswoman Yvette Clarke said, “America has lost one of its greatest heroes.
“He was a great patriot who put his very life on the line in the pursuit of justice in the nation he loved,” said Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents a swath of central Brooklyn including Brownsville, Crown Heights and East Flatbush, among other neighborhoods. “He made it his duty to disrupt the status quo, to ‘get in the way’ and to demand civil rights and justice for Black people of the South and by extension the poor and disenfranchised across the country.”
Clarke, vice chair of the US Congressional Black Caucus, of which Lewis was a long-serving member, said the late representative often referred to his penchant for civil disobedience as “good trouble.”
“His courage and bravery in the face of violence and cruelty was truly heroic,” she told Brooklyn Paper’s sister publication Caribbean Life. “Growing up as the son of Alabama sharecroppers, Representative John Lewis saw and experienced the pervasive impact of racism in the Deep South firsthand.”
Clarke said Lewis’s experiences compelled him to reach out to slain US civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and become fully engaged of the Civil Rights Movement, staging sit-ins in Nashville, Tennessee, as a Fisk University student, rising to become chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), taking part in the Freedom Rides to desegregate the South and “leading one of the most prolific and effective protest movements in American history.”
The congresswoman said that, on Mar. 7, 1965, Lewis — who was born and raised in Troy, Alabama, a segregated town of the “Deep South” of the United States — was beaten “within an inch of his life” by police officers while leading hundreds of marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
She said Lewis was determined to obtain voting rights for Black people at all costs.
“John often expressed and deeply believed that the right to vote was sacred,” Clarke said. “Despite the brutal attack, he never let up on his quest, the fight for justice.”
Lewis was elected and sworn in to serve in the House of Representatives in 1986.
“As a direct beneficiary of his iconic leadership, I will never forget being moved by our common vision to fight for common sense gun law reforms and participating in the legendary 25-hour sit-in on the House floor when Republicans refused to take up gun control legislation,” Clarke said. “He was an icon in Congress and a moral compass in the midst of us all. Indeed. Congressman John Lewis was the ‘conscience of Congress.’”
The Brooklyn rep added that, while he viewed Lewis as a “Giant of a Man,” he “always displayed an authentic sense of humility that was almost divine.
“You could not be in his presence without feeling a tremendous sense of honor and reverence for the sacrifices he made while striving to create a more just civil society and by extension a just nation,” she said. “There are not enough words to describe the pain that comes from such a loss. However, I have found solace in knowing John Lewis fought the good fight, he finished his race and he kept the faith. He is on the express train to Heaven.”
She said the best tribute that she can and must pay to Lewis is “to use every moment and opportunity from this day forward to continue his legacy by ‘never giving in, never giving up, making good trouble’ and doing my part to advance our beloved community.”
Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, who in January became the first Black woman to lead the Kings County Democratic County Committee, told Brooklyn Paper she will continue to govern with Lewis’ legacy in mind.
“Rep. John Lewis was a true American hero, serving the people as a civil rights activist, Freedom Fighter, and member of Congress. He advocated for the rights of Black Americans to vote, often at great personal cost and was a champion in the fight for racial justice,” she said. “To truly honor his legacy, we must take advantage of the freedoms that Rep. Lewis spent his life pursuing. I will carry his legacy with me every day as I serve the people of Brooklyn in Albany.”
Councilwoman Farah Louis shared similar sentiments.
“From the lunch counter sit-ins to more than 30 years in Congress as the representative for Georgia’s 5th district, his consistent determination to bring America to its highest potential will serve as a model for our own forward progress,” said Louis, whose district encompasses Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Marine Park, Flatlands, and Kensington. “We are forever indebted to his patriotism, perseverance, and passion.”
Now, “it is this generation’s turn to rise up,” Louis said.
“We have a personal, moral, and human obligation to identify injustices and right those wrongs,” she said. “May we forever remember Representative Lewis‘ call to action to ‘speak up, speak out, and get in the way,’ to ‘get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.'”
Additional reporting by Meaghan McGoldrick
A version of this story first appeared on CaribbeanLifeNews.com.