Updated Jul 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Obama pays tribute to civil rights icon John Lewis and his legacy

Then-President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Freedom to Rep. John Lewis at the White House in Washington, D.C., in 2011. Photo: Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images
Then-President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Freedom to Rep. John Lewis at the White House in Washington, D.C., in 2011. Photo: Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama paid tribute to Rep. John Lewis, who died on Friday at age 80, for making his life's work to "challenge an unjust status quo, and to imagine a better world."

Details: In a blog posted to Medium on Saturday morning, Obama noted that the civil rights great, who helped organize the historic 1963 March on Washington and led the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, "loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise."

"[T]hrough the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example."

What else he's saying: Obama recalled the last time he and Lewis shared a public forum was "at a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists who were helping to lead this summer’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death."

  • He said Lewis "could not have been prouder of their efforts" in "standing up for freedom and equality," and that he told the congressman those young people "were his children." "They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it," he said.
  • "Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way," Obama added. "John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise."

The big picture: Obama presented Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

  • The former president recalled in his blog hugging Lewis on the inauguration stand before he was sworn in, telling him he "was only there because of the sacrifices he made," and noting that he "never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement" to him and his family.

Of note: Lewis originally endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2007. Per CNN, he decided to back Obama instead in early 2008, saying: "Something is happening in America."

  • Ahead of Obama's inauguration in 2009, Lewis told Time Magazine, " I never thought — I never dreamed — of the possibility that an African American would one day be elected President of the United States.
  • "My mother lived to see me elected to the Congress, but I wish my mother and father both were around," he continued. "They would be so happy and so proud, and they would be so gratified. And they would be saying that the struggle, and what we did and tried to do, was worth it."

Go deeper: John Lewis remembered as "one of the greatest heroes of American history"

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

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