Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis dies at 80

John Lewis in Washington
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader and Democratic congressman from Georgia, died Friday after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer, his family said in a statement. He was 80.

Lewis was an icon of the civil rights era who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. to organize non-violent marches and protests, including the 1963 March on Washington at which King gave his historic "I Have A Dream" speech. In 1965, Lewis led the famous march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol in Montgomery to demand voting rights for African Americans. When state troopers ordered the group of roughly 600 peaceful protesters to disperse, they stood their ground, and the troopers deployed violent tactics including tear gas and rubber tubing wrapped in barbed wire. Lewis was beaten by police and his skull fractured — an attack that was captured by television cameras and broadcast to the nation, "galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act," The New York Times writes. The act was passed eight days later.

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Lewis was elected to Congress in 1987, and was known to his colleagues as "the conscience of the Congress," the Times notes. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama in 2010.

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Lewis announced his stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis in December of last year and said he planned to continue his work in Congress during treatment. "I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life," he said at the time. "I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that Lewis dedicated every day of his life to "bringing freedom and justice to all." Obama said that "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."

Read more about Lewis' life and legacy at The Washington Post.

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Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a writer and former deputy editor of The Week Digital. Originally from the American Midwest, she completed a degree in journalism at Indiana University Bloomington before relocating to New York City, where she pursued a career in media. After joining The Week as an intern in 2010, she served as the title’s audience development manager, senior editor and deputy editor, as well as a regular guest on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. Her writing has featured in other publications including Popular Science, Fast Company, Fortune, and Self magazine, and she loves covering science and climate-related issues.