Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights leader and Troy native, passed away Friday at the age of 80 after being diagnosed with cancer in December.
Lewis was raised on a cotton farm in Troy attending public schools in the city with dreams of becoming a minister.
Lewis went on to receive a B.A in religion and philosophy from Fisk University. In college, Lewis became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, beginning his long journey as a civil rights leader. He took part in sit-ins and was attacked on multiple occasions during his pursuit of equality.
At the age of 23, Lewis was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in August of 1963, the same place where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Two years later, Lewis helped lead the march from Selma to Montgomery to advocate for African American voting rights. While crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, he suffered a fractured skull as police officers charged the crowd on what become known as Bloody Sunday.
Lewis continued his fight for voter education becoming the director of the Voter Education Project, being named the head of ACTION (coordinated all government sponsored volunteer agencies) and being elected to the Atlanta City Council.
In 1986, Lewis was elected to the House of Representatives where he continued to fight for justice. Lewis was reelected 16 times over his tenure as a representative for the state of Georgia where he campaigned for justice, gun legislation and other issues he was passionate about.
The hometown hero was presented an honorary doctorate by Troy State University in June of 1989 after having been denied entry to Troy State College in 1957.
“John Lewis helped change the history of America,” said Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr. “His non-violent approach to affecting change saved countless lives, and his focus on justice for all was a rallying cry for the ages.”
“He was a good man with a loving heart, and he will be missed.”