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Civil Rights Icon Rep. John Lewis Dies at 80

Rep. John R. Lewis speaks at Cal State University, Fullerton in observance of Black History Month 2012. (Photo: Chris Prevatt)

Civil Rights icon Representative John Lewis has died. The Georgia lawmaker had been suffering from Stage IV pancreatic cancer since December. He was 80.

We had the pleasure of covering his visit to Orange County in 2012. We would like to remember him with a repost of that story.

From February 2012

Rep. Loretta Sanchez welcomes Rep. John R. Lewis to CSUF for Black History Month 2012 (Photo: Chris Prevatt)

In recognition of Black History Month, the Center for Oral and Public History, Cal State Fullerton, welcomed U.S. Rep. John R. Lewis to the Fullerton Arboretum. The address by Rep. Lewis preceded tours of the New Birth of Freedom: Civil War to Civil Rights in California exhibition at the Orange County Agricultural and Nikkei Museum. Representative Loretta Sanchez in her introduction welcomed Lewis to Orange County.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re Black, or White, Latino, Asian-American, or Native-American, we’re one people, we’re one family, we’re one house, we all live in the same house;” Rep. Lewis told the audience. “We’re sisters and brothers, don’t let anyone tell you anything different.”

Born the son of Alabama sharecroppers, Rep. John R. Lewis (D-Ga.) attended segregated public schools and was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery bus boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. He became a part of the civil rights movement, organizing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville; volunteering for the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South; and enduring severe beatings and incarceration for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation laws. During the height of the movement, from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which he helped form. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement, joining Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, and Roy Wilkins. By the time he was 23, Lewis was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963.

Despite more than 40 arrests, brutal physical attacks, and serious injuries, Lewis has remained an advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence and continues to fight for human rights in the United States. Representative Lewis spoke of how he first met the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr and of the Selma to Montgomery march which resulted in 2,500 protesters turning around after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Lewis closed with a story from his childhood and reminding us that:

“Maybe our fore-mothers and fore-fathers all came to this land in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now. We have to look out for each other—stand up for each other—support each other—and build a sense of one house, one community.”

Fullerton Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva and her husband Jesus Silva were also in attendance at the event.

Fullerton Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva and Jesus Silva attend Rep. John R. Lewis address for Black History Month 2012 (Photo: Chris Prevatt)

Below is video of the last story Lewis recalled during his remarks.