Late Friday, lawmakers confirmed the death of Civil Rights icon and long-time Congressman, Georgia Representative John Lewis. He was 80-years-old. Back in December is when Lewis announced a battle with Pancreatic Cancer.
Lewis appeared at Black Lives Matter Plaza with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in the early morning of Sunday, June 7th -- just a few days after the mayor allowed the words “Black Lives Matter” to be painted in yellow in 16th Street NW to mark what is now Black Lives Matter Plaza. This is now being reported as the late Civil Rights leader’s last public appearance before his passing late Friday.
FOX 5 spoke with John Lewis that day and asked his response to the nation-wide peaceful George Floyd protests, which in the District, had reached nine straight days of demonstrations the day he visited.
Rep. John Lewis is presented with the 2010 Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama during an East Room event at the White House February 15, 2011 in Washington, D.C.
“It’s very moving. Very moving. Very impressive. I think that the people in DC and around the nation are sending a mighty powerful and strong message to the rest of the world [that we will get there],” said Congressman John Lewis at the time.
Saturday, after learning of his passing, Jennifer Lawson told FOX 5 Saturday morning, “I’m so delighted that the last image that I have of him, was him standing on Black Lives Matter Plaza and him talking about how thrilled he was at the scale and the diversity of today’s movement.”
Lawson, stopped randomly to discuss John Lewis legacy with FOX 5 on Saturday morning. Little did we know, Lawson was also once a student activist from Alabama.
“I grew up in Alabama and worked in the Civil Rights Movement – I worked in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee with Congressman John Lewis. It was my privilege and honor to work with him. And it’s a real, such a loss for our country, for our world at this moment,” she said.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was the young activist group John Lewis formed as a young man. The group involved themselves in non-violent “direct action.”
The Georgia Representative was born to Sharecroppers in a segregated Alabama, growing up to lead a life of activism and non-violent protests.
In 1963 Lewis became the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous, “I Have A Dream” speech. Lewis was beaten by law enforcement two years later on “Bloody Sunday,” when non-violent activists marched across Alabama’s Edmund Pettis Bridge calling for voting rights.
John Lewis served in Congress from 1987 until his passing and was referred to as the, “Conscience of the Congress.” In Congress Lewis introduced legislation that among other things, later led to the creation of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Outside of that museum Saturday, is where we found Lawson, who is now among the many people mourning John Lewis world-wide – and in the nation’s capital.
“I saw it this morning when I woke up and I was extremely sad. As you know, he was an icon in the Civil Rights Movement. Thanks to John Lewis, Black people in this country have rights,” said a woman visiting Black Lives Matter Plaza after Lewis’ passing.
Outside of the U.S. Capitol, a father and daughter became emotional, fighting back tears as they talked of the late lawmaker.
“We’re going to miss him. Miss him a lot,” said Kestner, who didn’t know Lewis personally, “I think we need people like him at this time. So um, you know, I just hope that his message continues on and we as a company– as a country, heal.”
“I think he was a refreshing voice in this period of chaos,” added Kestner.
His daughter, Jane Kestner, remembered the time she saw John Lewis on the same flight.
“People were just stopping and thanking him and I could hear him as we were getting closer – and they were thanking him and he was thanking them back. So I think that speaks a lot about his character and who he was as a person – that he was thanking people who were thanking him, um, it’s pretty remarkable,” said Jane Kestner.
Outside of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Lawson remembered a “loyal” and “sometimes shy” young John Lewis. She also remembers someone who, at a young age, spoke out against injustice – and very important for Lawson, advocated for unity. Lawson says Lewis brought Republicans and Democrats together.
“People all across, from different sides of the aisle, he would take them to Selma and along the Civil Rights Trail. His notion was, ‘Walk in my shoes and you will understand so much more.’ And I think we need that kind of leadership today, people who bring our country together,” said Lawson.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser shared a black and white version of the photo she and Lewis took together, standing on Black Lives Matter Plaza that June 7th morning.
“We knew John Lewis as the conscience of Congress, but often, he felt more like the conscience of our nation…” she wrote in part of her message.