On July 30, former United States President Barack Obama delivered a touching eulogy in memory of the late civil rights leader and Member of Congress John Lewis. At the Martin Luther King Jr. church in Atlanta, Obama was emphatic when he stated that the U.S. would have never seen an African-American as their highest political leader if not for the lifelong work and sacrifice of Mr. Lewis.
Former President Bill Clinton also addressed the bereaved in attendance. The New York Times ran a posthumous editorial that Mr. Lewis had intended to publish in late July; the article was a powerful essay on the precarious status of civil rights today, and it would have been a topic of national debate, but God called upon him beforehand.
The NYT article penned by Lewis reminded Americans of their obligations to say something when they see something that isn’t right. He called on every generation to take action in order to build a peaceful society; in essence, he called on people to follow his footsteps at a time when there is a global movement decrying racial injustice, oppression, and police brutality. Conspicuously absent from this memorial ceremony was the incumbent President Donald Trump.
John Lewis was a native of Alabama. He was born in 1940, and his life was changed at the age of 15 when he heard MLK preaching on the radio. A couple of years later, Lewis met Rosa Parks. By the time he reached voting age, he met MLK. Lewis was educated in theology in Tennessee, and this is where his activist streak against segregation began. He closely studied the teachings of MLK and Mahatma Gandhi on non-violent protests and pacifism. In 1965, during a march for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Lewis and other protesters were attacked and bloodied by Alabama state troopers.
Lewis was a firm believer in the representative democratic system of the U.S. He was elected to the Atlanta City Council in the early 1980s, and he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives seven years later, where he would be reelected 16 consecutive times, always running on a platform that emphasized political enfranchisement, the rights of minorities, and dignity for low-income communities. In essence, Lewis always adhered to MLK’s philosophy.
There are many reasons Lewis deserves to be called a true American hero, and one of them is directly related to popular culture. Like many politically aware African-Americans, Lewis was into comic books, graphic novels, progressive science fiction, and Afro-Futurism. In 1958, he read a comic book about the life of MLK, and he decided to write a graphic novel about his own participation as a leader of people’s rights. March: Book One was illustrated by Nate Powell and published in 2013; this graphic novel has received multiple awards and is now part of the curriculum at several schools across the U.S. The novel was made into a trilogy that has been read by many children.
In 2014, Lewis was invited to Comic Con International in San Diego. He received a comic book superhero’s welcome, and he even dressed up as his younger self in a cosplay wardrobe of a trench coat and backpack, just like he was dressed when he crossed the bridge in Selma decades ago. Delighted children attending Comic Con immediately recognized Lewis from the March comic book trilogy; he took their arms and lead them on a rally around the convention center.
At the age of 80, and following a battle against pancreatic cancer, Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020. He died at a medical center not far from Capitol Hill, and he acknowledged that fighting for his own life was as challenging as fighting for the rights of people, something he did very courageously for many decades.