NEW YORK – Caribbean American Democratic Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke has paid tribute to her congressional colleague John Lewis, a United States civil right icon, who died on Friday from Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He was 80.
Lewis, of Atlanta, Georgia, who represented Georgia’s 5th district in the US Congress for 34 uninterrupted years, was the son of sharecroppers.
The outspoken Democratic congressman, who was chairman of the US House of Representatives’ House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, was considered “an apostle of nonviolence.
“On behalf of the people of New York’s 9th Congressional District, the Clarke family and myself, I wish to express my deepest condolences to the family, friends and loved-ones of the Honourable Congressman John Lewis,” Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), adding “America has lost one of its greatest heroes.
“He was a great patriot who put his very life on the line in the pursuit of justice in the nation he loved,” said Clarke, whose 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn, New York, is predominantly Caribbean.
“He made it his duty to disrupt the status quo, to ‘get in the way’ and to demand civil rights and justice for Black people of the South (United States) and by extension the poor and disenfranchised across the country.”
Clarke, vice chair of the US Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), of which Lewis was a member, said he had often referred to his penchant for civil disobedience as “good trouble.
“His courage and bravery in the face of violence and cruelty was truly heroic. Growing up as the son of Alabama sharecroppers, Representative John Lewis saw and experienced the pervasive impact of racism in the Deep South first hand.”
Clarke said Lewis’s experiences compelled him to reach out to slain US civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and become fully engaged of the Civil Rights Movement, staging sit-ins in Nashville, Tennessee, as a Fisk University student, rising to become chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), taking part in the Freedom Rides to desegregate the South and “leading one of the most prolific and effective protest movements in American history.”
The congresswoman said that, on March 7, 1965, Lewis – who was born and raised in Troy, Alabama, a segregated town of the “Deep South” of the United States – was beaten “within an inch of his life” by police officers while leading hundreds of marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
She said Lewis was determined to obtain voting rights for Black people at all costs.
“John often expressed and deeply believed that the right to vote was sacred. Despite the brutal attack, he never let up on his quest, the fight for justice.”
Lewis was elected and sworn in to serve in the US House of Representatives in 1986.
“Throughout his tenure, Congressman Lewis was a fierce advocate for the protection of civil rights, voting rights, human rights, and he never hesitated to speak out against racism and injustice. I count it an honour and a privilege to have served the past 13 years and seven months with this living legend and civil rights icon as my friend, mentor and colleague.
“As a direct beneficiary of his iconic leadership, I will never forget being moved by our common vision to fight for common sense gun law reforms and participating in the legendary 25-hour sit-in on the House floor when Republicans refused to take up gun control legislation,” she added.
Clarke said Lewis “was an icon in Congress and a moral compass in the midst of us all. Indeed. Congressman John Lewis was the ‘conscience of Congress,” adding he was a “Giant of a Man”, who “always displayed an authentic sense of humility that was almost divine.
“You could not be in his presence without feeling a tremendous sense of honour and reverence for the sacrifices he made while striving to create a more just civil society and by extension a just nation. There are not enough words to describe the pain that comes from such a loss.”