Updated Jul 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Civil rights giant Rep. John Lewis dies at 80

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) in March 2009.
Rep. John Lewis in March 2009.

Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) died on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in a statement declaring: "America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history."

Details: He was 80 years old and had been receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer, announcing his diagnosis last December.

The big picture: Lewis, one of the organizers and speakers for the historic 1963 March on Washington, led the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, served in the House of Representatives since 1987 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

  • In May, he spoke out on unrest during the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, saying: "Be constructive, not destructive."
  • "History has proven time and again that non-violent, peaceful protest is the way to achieve the justice and equality that we all deserve," Lewis said. "Our work won’t be easy — nothing worth having ever is — but I strongly believe, as Dr. King once said, that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice."

Background: After Lewis announced his stage 4 cancer diagnosis, several American politicians issued messages of support, including former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

What they're saying: Obama wrote a blog post early on Saturday, remembering Lewis as someone who made his life's work to "challenge an unjust status quo, and to imagine a better world."

  • "Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way," Obama wrote in the tribute, posted to Medium. "John Lewis did."
  • Former President Bill Clinton and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said in a joint statement on Friday night, "We have lost a giant."
  • The NAACP issued a statement late Friday saying: "We are deeply saddened by the passing of John Lewis. His life-long mission for justice, equality and freedom left a permanent impression on our nation and world."

Go deeper: John Lewis remembered as an American hero

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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