On July 17, 2020, John Lewis, member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia’s 5th District and stalwart leader of the civil rights movement, passed away at the age of 80 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Heralded as the “conscience of the Congress” and widely respected by many across the political spectrum, he will be sorely missed.

Born in 1940 to a family of sharecroppers, Mr. Lewis’s life and career inspired millions. He labored to make the promise of American life a reality for those denied core freedoms and opportunities under Jim Crow oppression. At the age of 23, he had already become a central figure in the civil rights movement through his leadership on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and he spoke at the March on Washington in 1963. His personal courage in facing danger in the campaign to end discrimination and injustice was prodigious.

After two decades of fighting for civil rights, Mr. Lewis was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986, a position that he held until his death. In Congress, he remained a leader and a unifier, standing up for the interests of marginalized and disadvantaged groups everywhere.

ACTA will particularly remember him for his passionate defense of civil liberties. He was a strong supporter of free speech, a free press, and the power of faith. He asserted, “Without freedom of speech and the right to dissent, the Civil Rights movement would have been a bird without wings.” At a time when colleges and universities, which prepare the citizens and leaders of the future, too often waver in their duty to protect the free exchange of ideas, we must remember his words and the values that his life exemplified.


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