Bronx delegation reflects on the life of Congressman John Lewis

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) waves after he speaks at the ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial honoring the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, August 24, 2013. Thousands of marchers were expected in Washington, D.C. on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech and to urge action on jobs, voting rights and gun violence.
REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo

As Georgia’s congressional representative and civil rights icon John Lewis was laid to rest this week, his years of service in pursuit of justice have inspired and influenced many in the Bronx’s political delegation.

Lewis, who died on Friday, July 17 at age 80, was a hero of the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s, endured beatings by white police and mobs and played an outsized role in American politics for 60 years.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. along with many of his colleagues in government, took to Twitter with remembrance messages of the progressive Democrat.

“As one of the lions of the civil rights movement, you were a trailblazer who shed blood in the fight for equality, a role model who inspired others to stand up for what’s right,” Diaz wrote.

East Bronx and western Queens Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared on an NPR radio program, where she reflected on the life of Lewis as well.

“I would say that the beginning of me really thinking about politics in a traditional sense was in looking at the example of John Lewis and the civil rights movement overall,” she said.

In the south Bronx, retiring Congressman Jose E. Serrano also wrote about his time of service with Lewis in the house.

“He was a civil rights leader we all looked to for advice. He was a mentor and a friend. One of the true heroes in our country. R.I.P. my friend. We will miss you,” Serrano wrote.

West Bronx and upper Manhattan Congressman Adriano Espaillat also released a statement on Lewis’ passing.

“Congressman Lewis was a leader of extraordinary principle who stood at the vanguard of the civil rights movement. During his life and career, Congressman Lewis demonstrated unrivaled courage, leadership, and commitment to the vitality and diversity of our nation,” he stated, adding “it was truly awe-inspiring and my honor to serve with Congressman Lewis in the United States House of Representatives. His torch may have dimmed, but his legacy forever shines bright in Congress as we continue to champion the work that he held dear to ensure equality, freedom and justice for all.”

Jamaal Bowman, the Democratic congressional nominee for the north Bronx and south Westchester also Tweeted out a message of sincerity towards the lessons learned from Lewis.

“He was an organizer who brought Americans together across our differences to defeat the racism tearing our country apart from its inception,” Bowman wrote.

Lewis was born to an Alabama sharecropper in 1940 and was elected in 1986 as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia. On July 17, the 80-year-old died after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

A protege of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis led sit-ins to integrate all-white lunch counters, was one of the original “Freedom Riders” who integrated buses and suffered a skull fracture while demonstrating for Black voting rights in a savage beating by a nightstick-wielding white Alabama state trooper during an incident now called “Bloody Sunday.”

Lewis was present at many of the civil rights movement’s seminal moments, and was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, hoping for a land where Blacks “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Lewis, the last surviving speaker at that speech, maintained the fight for civil rights until the end of his life. He made his last public appearance in June, as protests for racial justice swept the United States and the world.

With reporting by Will Dunham/Reuters

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