We at the Roosevelt Institute join our fellow Americans in mourning the passing of Congressman John Lewis, a beacon of morality and undaunted leadership.
Rep. Lewis set so many examples for us to follow. The son of sharecroppers, he joined the student movement for justice early, organizing the Nashville bus boycott and practicing nonviolence as a matter of strategy. As one of the youngest Freedom Riders, he and fellow organizers led the quest for true equality in the face of police brutality—from the march in Montgomery, Alabama, to the famed walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. After a brief career leading nonprofit organizations focused on voting rights, he turned to political life, winning reelection 16 times as the congressman from Georgia’s 5th district.
For all of those reasons and more, we were honored to present Rep. Lewis the FDR Freedom of Speech Award in 1999. He embodied all that we fight for: racial justice, economic justice, democracy, and action—getting into the fray and making “good and necessary trouble.” He knew that true democracy is impossible without full political participation and real economic equality.
Our board chair Anna Eleanor Roosevelt remembers the day he accepted the Four Freedoms medal: “We were so honored by his presence. He and his wife Lillian took the train to Hyde Park to attend the ceremony. While his words and his voice and his presence are a vivid memory, it is his example of humanity and leadership in our democracy that will be his legacy. We are all committed to keeping that legacy alive.”
Rest in peace, rest in power, John Lewis.