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Obama, Bush, Pence, and lawmakers react

Obama, Bush, Pence, and lawmakers react
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Arrested, jailed and beaten for challenging Jim Crow laws, Lewis became a national figure in his early 20s.

USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers, world leaders, organizations and celebrities reacted Friday night to news that Rep. John R. Lewis, D-GA, the civil rights icon whose fight for racial justice began in the Jim Crow south and ended in the halls of Congress, died.

Lewis, an organizer of the March on Washington in 1963 along with Martin Luther King Jr., had been battling Stage IV pancreatic cancer since December. The congressman was 80.

His family said in a statement Friday night Lewis, who represented Georgia, “was honored and respected as the conscience of the US Congress and an icon of American history but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the on-going struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being.”

‘John Lewis: Good Trouble’: 5 lessons from the documentary that still apply today

On Saturday morning, the White House flew its flag at half-staff in honor of Lewis’ death. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also ordered the flags at the Capitol to be lowered. President Donald Trump has not yet issued a statement, though Vice President Mike Pence issued a statement midday Saturday.

Here is a look at how he is being remembered: 

Former President Barack Obama

“In so many ways, John’s life was exceptional. But he never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country might do,” Obama wrote in lengthy tribute to Lewis. On his Inauguration Day in 2009, Obama signed a message to him “Because of you, John.”

The statement continued, “He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, a longing to do what’s right, a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect. And it’s because he saw the best in all of us that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in that long journey towards a more perfect union.

“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders – to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise,” the statement concluded.

Former President George W. Bush

“Laura and I join our fellow Americans in mourning the loss of Congressman John Lewis,” Bush wrote. “As a young man marching for equality in Selma, Alabama, John answered brutal violence with courageous hope. And throughout his career as a civil rights leader and public servant, he worked to make our country a more perfect union. America can best honor John’s memory by continuing his journey toward liberty and justice for all.”

No reaction yet from President Trump but press secretary weighs in

As of midday Saturday, President Trump had not weighed in on Rep. Lewis’ death, although his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, hailed Lewis on Twitter as “an icon of the civil rights movement” who “leaves an enduring legacy that will never be forgotten.”

“We hold his family in our prayers, as we remember Rep. John Lewis’ incredible contributions to our country,” McEnany wrote.

Vice President Mike Pence 

Vice President Mike Pence called Lewis a “colleague and a friend,” remembering walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge next to Lewis on the 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. 

“Congressman John Lewis was a great man whose courage and decades of public service changed America forever, and he will be deeply missed,” he wrote. “John Lewis will be remembered as a giant of the civil rights movement whose selflessness and conviction rendered our nation into a more perfect union and his example will inspire generations of Americans.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history.

“John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation,” the statement continued.  “Every day of John Lewis’s life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all.  As he declared 57 years ago during the March on Washington, standing in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial: ‘Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people.’  

“How fitting it is that even in the last weeks of his battle with cancer, John summoned the strength to visit the peaceful protests where the newest generation of Americans had poured into the streets to take up the unfinished work of racial justice.” 

More: Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon who began pushing for racial justice in the Jim Crow south, has died

The Congressional Black Caucus 

“The world has lost a legend; the civil rights movement has lost an icon, the City of Atlanta has lost one of its most fearless leaders, and the Congressional Black Caucus has lost our longest serving member.

“A fighter for justice until the end, Mr. Lewis recently visited Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington DC. His mere presence encouraged a new generation of activist to “speak up and speak out” and get into “good trouble” to continue bending the arc toward justice and freedom,” the statement continued.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden 

“We are made in the image of God, and then there is John Lewis,” reads the statement.

“How could someone in flesh and blood be so courageous, so full of hope and love in the face of so much hate, violence, and vengeance? Perhaps it was the Spirit that found John as a young boy in the Deep South dreaming of preaching the social gospel; the work ethic his sharecropper parents instilled in him and that stayed with him; the convictions of nonviolent civil disobedience he mastered from Dr. King and countless fearless leaders in the movement; or the abiding connection with the constituents of Georgia’s 5th District he loyally served for decades. 

“Or perhaps it was that he was truly a one-of-a-kind, a moral compass who always knew where to point us and which direction to march.

“It is rare to meet and befriend our heroes. John was that hero for so many people of every race and station, including us. He absorbed the force of human nature’s cruelty during the course of his life, and the only thing that could finally stop him was cancer. But he was not bitter…

The Bidens note that they “spoke to him a few days ago for the final time.” “His voice still commanded respect and his laugh was still full of joy,” they said. “Instead of answering our concerns for him, he asked about us. He asked us to stay focused on the work left undone to heal this nation. He was himself – a man at peace, of dignity, grace and character.”

His statement continues: “John’s life reminds us that the most powerful symbol of what it means to be an American is what we do with the time we have to make real the promise of our nation – that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally. Through the beatings, the marches, the arrests, the debates on war, peace, and freedom, and the legislative fights for good jobs and health care and the fundamental right to vote, he taught us that while the journey toward equality is not easy, we must be unafraid and never cower and never, ever give up.”

Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

 “We have lost a giant. John Lewis gave all he had to redeem America’s unmet promise of equality and justice for all, and to create a place for us to build a more perfect union together.”

Mayor of Washington, D.C. Muriel Bowser 

Bowser, who was joined by Lewis a little more than a month ago at Black Lives Matter Plaza in D.C. in what would be his last public appearance, tweeted, “We have more work to do but we would not be where are without John Lewis. May he rest in power, and may we humbly and boldly walk in his footsteps.”

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Lewis “is an American hero and a giant. And we are all better for the “good trouble” he made.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“Congressman Lewis’ place among the giants of American history was secure before his career in Congress had even begun.

“The Senate and the nation mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis, a pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism, promote equal rights, and bring our nation into greater alignment with its founding principles,” the statement reads. 

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala. 

Jones, who called Lewis a “dear friend,” remembered Lewis’ roots in Troy, Alabama, and said Lewis “loved our country with all of his heart and set out to make it a stronger, more democratic, more equal, more just nation for every person.”

“To persevere toward that end in the face of the hate and violence he so often faced is a testament to his strength of both character and heart,” he wrote, calling on Congress to honor Lewis by finishing “John’s efforts to restore integrity to the Voting Rights Act.”

Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala. 

Sewell, who called Lewis one of her mentors and friends in Congress, said her heart broke with death, but “my spirit soars for an angel walked among us and we were all touched by his greatness.”

“He forever changed Selma and this nation. May we finish his life’s work and restore the Voting Rights Act,” she wrote. 

Martin Luther King III

“John Lewis was an American treasure. He gave a voice to the voiceless, and he reminded each of us that the most powerful nonviolent tool is the vote. Our hearts feel empty without our friend, but we find comfort knowing that he is free at last,” King tweeted. His father and Lewis were close friends. 

Lewis remained the last surviving member of the Big Six, which included King, James Farmer, A. Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

“John Lewis was an icon who fought with every ounce of his being to advance the cause of civil rights for all Americans. I’m devastated for his family, friends, staff—and all those whose lives he touched.”

Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP

“He was the moral center of the civil rights movement,’’ Johnson said Friday. “He was the conscience of the Congress and he lived the life he spoke of.”

Johnson said honoring Lewis at the NAACP Image Awards in February for his life’s work was just one way to salute the civil rights legend.

Stacey Abrams

God has welcomed @repjohnlewis home. Defender of justice. Champion of right,” Abrams, the Democrat who narrowly lost her race for Georgia governor in 2018, tweeted. She continued Lewis was “Our conscience, he was a griot of this modern age, one who saw its hatred but fought ever towards the light.”

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

“John Lewis was a legend who helped pave the way for so many of the victories achieved throughout the civil rights movement. As accomplished and revered as he was, he never stopped working to advance the cause of equality and justice for all, even in his final days as he was battling for his own life.

“I was proud to call John Lewis a friend, and he will be deeply missed. America is a more perfect union because of the blood, sweat, and tears sacrificed by the great John Lewis,” his statement concluded.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

“John Lewis was an extraordinary man. He suffered for this nation, enduring what would have easily broken other men, so that future generations could enjoy the full blessings of freedom. Racism, segregation, and discrimination were not history for him; they were everyday life. But John wasn’t just a patriot on sunny days. His patriotism urged him forward to fight for America with nonviolence and defend it with peacefulness. We are a better nation because of John Lewis.

“It was a true privilege to call John a friend. I admired him and will miss him. His life and legacy of patriotism will endure for as long as America does.” 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

“John Lewis was a true American hero and the moral compass of our nation. May his courage and conviction live on in all of us as we continue to make good trouble for justice and opportunity. Rest in power, John.”

Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign president

 “Congressman John Lewis is a hero and civil rights icon who pushed our country closer to the promise of a more perfect union.

“Future generations will learn how he faced down discrimination with courage and defiance, boldly challenging the United States to envision a future where every person, no matter their race, sexual orientation or gender identity, has an equal chance at the American Dream,” the statement continued. 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

“We learned from civil rights giant Congressman John Lewis that we have “a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to speak up, speak out and get in good trouble. In honor of his legacy, we will continue on this path of good trouble.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

“John Lewis was a giant. A civil rights legend. A leader in the halls of Congress. And a moral voice for the whole nation.”

“Having the opportunity to serve with him was one of the great honors of my life,” she continued.

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Contributing: Deborah Barfield Berry 

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