Many people around the nation are remembering Georgia Democratic Congressman John Lewis, who died last night of Pancreatic Cancer at the age of 80. That includes people in our region… Congressman Lewis visited Burlington last fall.
For more than half a century, Congressman Lewis was an outspoken figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement. From the ‘March on Washington’ in 1963, to marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Lewis took his activism from the streets to City Hall, joining the Atlanta City Council in 1981, and then getting elected to represent Georgia’s 5th District, in the House of Representatives in 1986. He’d been re-elected every two years since then.
“People use the term icon a lot, I know, but I think it’s certainly applicable in his case. And I also think that he fought the good fight, to use the old cliche, with so much dignity and humor and compassion and insight”, says Reuben Jackson. He narrated sections of Lewis’ Graphic Novel, ‘March’.
Lewis visited Vermont last fall, coming to the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, to discuss his Novel Trilogy, which centers around his perspective during the Civil Rights Movement.
“One of the things that really struck us when he came to visit, was how generous he was with every single person that he met, especially the kids. And when we were talking with him and inviting him to come to Vermont, the first thing that he said to us is, ‘I really want to come, but only if I can spend most of my time with young people'”, says Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup, Executive Director of Vermont Humanities.
Lewis believed that young people have a good grasp on civil rights issues and are likely to be active and use their voices, as he did.
“He told them about his life experiences, he told them to, as he so often likes to say, told them to get in to good trouble, necessary trouble. And I think that speaks to the life and legacy he’ll leave,” says Vermont Democratic Party Spokesperson, Christopher Di Mezzo.
Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, tweeted last night, “John Lewis was an American hero among us, a lodestar who drew us closer to our ideals. He was a dear friend and mentor to me on civil rights and so much else. I felt honored when he called me his brother and when he came to Vermont last year. Marcelle and I are in tears.”