Mid-South pays tribute to civil rights leader, Congressman John Lewis

John Lewis' special connection to Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Mid-South has joined the nation in mourning the loss of Georgia Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis.

Mid-South politicians issued condolence messages and shared their thoughts about Lewis, including personal experiences with him.

"America has lost a hero. I have lost a hero, a dear friend, a 'good trouble' cohort and colleague," said U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen. "It has been an honor to know and serve with this gentleman. He was the embodiment of Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, and heaven on earth."

Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis has died

"I met John Lewis when I was a 19-year-old intern on Capitol Hill," said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. "He spent so much time with our group, pouring into us, inspiring us. You would think we were the only ones. But, we know he did that all the time. John Lewis was Superman."

"John Lewis was a dear and honorable man. His dedication to seeking racial justice and reconciliation marked his life and work. He will be remembered for the lives he changed and the doors he opened for millions of Americans. May he Rest In Peace," said U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn.

"He died a member of the United States Congress and a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom," said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. "Tennesseans are grateful that he helped us understand better the meaning of equal opportunity."

(Source: ASU-Civil Rights Activist John Lewis)
(Source: ASU-Civil Rights Activist John Lewis)

“One of the kindest people I have ever met,” said Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer. “He is a giant, a hero and now our ancestor. Rest well, Congressman John Lewis. Thank you for the path you laid for us. Thank you for your fight, your sacrifice and your life: all dedicated to the pursuit of equality for Black people.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced flags over the state capitol will be lowered in honor of Lewis.

Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Lewis became one of the youngest and most recognizable leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, helping organize the March on Washington and fighting for voting rights in the South.

He paid a heavy price in 1965 when he and others were beaten by Alabama state troopers while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, an event that became known as "Bloody Sunday."

It's a moment chronicled through photos and videos in the Selma exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Faith Morris, the museum's chief marketing and external affairs officer, says Lewis' death comes at an especially tough time.

"We're already down because of the pandemic and we're trying to get through because of that, trying to cope with that," said Morris.

Morris met Lewis during several of his visits to Memphis.

In 2004, he received the museum's Freedom Award.

In 2018 he made two visits to the Bluff City.

One of his visits that year was in April, when he helped commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination.

Lewis also visited Memphis in March 2018, when he led a bipartisan congressional delegation on a visit to the museum.

"He felt that they needed to go on this trail of civil rights to understand what this movement was about," said Morris. "They came here and stayed for quite a while and just got really entranced in this content."

During his visit that month, Lewis also praised Memphis city leaders for removing confederate statues from city parks.

“I think it sent a strong message not just to Memphis but to the state of Tennessee and to the South and to the nation,” he said.

And now the city and nation pay tribute to a man who helped pave the way for a more perfect union.

His story will forever be chronicled at the National Civil Rights Museum.

“So we will forever remember what he’s done. He won’t be forgotten. We will help to make sure he’s not forgotten,” said Morris. “But we are among millions who will take on that charge.”

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