John Lewis, the icon of the Civil Rights movement who died Friday at the age of 80, entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 1987 — at the same time as now-Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.).
On Saturday, all nine Democrats in the Free State’s congressional delegation offered written tributes to their late colleague.
Rep. Kweisi Mfume:
With the passing of John Lewis America has lost one of her greatest heroes, and I have lost an old and dear friend. John and I were sworn into the historic 100th Congress as classmates 33 years ago. The passion for equality that he carried with him throughout his life never waned, and his untiring quest for justice never faltered. With a big heart for compassion John, like his mentor Dr. Martin Luther King, was unawed by opinion, unseduced by flattery and undismayed by disaster.
Birthed in the era of Jim Crow and vile segregation he defied the limitedness of others expectations. Knowing that politics change people, he decided to change politics, and did he ever. While his victories, accomplishments, and honors are far too numerous to remember or mention, it is important to know that John just wanted to be remembered as a simple man with a fire in his belly for justice.
In an age where everyone seems to be searching for the next great thing, isn’t it odd that the greatness of John Lewis was with us all along. We needed only to look as far as the latest movement for change to find it. We are sad today, but heaven is rejoicing. John has claimed his final reward.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin:
Until his last days, John Lewis showed us all how to fight, stand up for justice and get into “good trouble.” He marched through Selma and the halls of the Capitol with the same faith, courage and conviction. Today our nation mourns a true hero. Rest in peace, my dear friend and colleague.
He was a beacon in Congress and his passing calls upon us all to follow his example and carry on the fight for justice.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer:
There is a hole in the heart of America today. We, and the world, have lost a paragon of faith: in God, in his country, and in humankind – we were all his brothers and sisters. God is welcoming home one of his greatest disciples of love, and peace, and forgiveness, and reconciliation, and of hope, and of unlimited courage born of conviction and faith.
America has lost a towering moral figure, and I have lost a dear friend. John Lewis lived his life with purpose and in service to others, as close to a Christ-like figure as I have ever known. He was a beloved colleague and legislator, a trusted representative to his constituents in Georgia, and a man of integrity and good nature who strove to instill those qualities in others. I cannot properly express the profound sadness and grief of this moment in learning that he no longer marches alongside us.
As a young man, John saw injustice and chose to risk his life to fight it. Alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and spoke out against inequality, racism, and poverty. He organized his fellow students in Freedom Rides to register voters and bring hope and solidarity to African-American communities living under Jim Crow.
In Selma, John “walked with the wind” and nearly lost his life on “Bloody Sunday” in order to help secure passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I have walked hand-in-hand with John over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to commemorate that day. It will never be the same experience without him leading us with the solemnity and joyfulness of a prophet.
In Congress, I have watched him over our 33 years together as colleagues become a master of the House, a deft legislator who worked to secure the victories of the Civil Rights Movement by strengthening the laws passed in the 1960’s and 1970’s and building on them today. John was a champion of a progressive vision for our country, working hard to secure policies that lift Americans out of poverty, prevent deadly gun violence, ensure access to affordable health care for all, enable more Americans to reach for opportunities, and leave our children and grandchildren a healthier planet. I will never forget working closely with John to oppose the genocide in Darfur and to promote peace in Sudan and South Sudan. John fought for peace at home and around the world throughout his life.
In his later years, John served as a bridge to the Civil Rights Movement for millions of young Americans who were not alive during that time. Those who march for racial justice and to forge a more perfect union in the twenty-first century have looked to John Lewis for leadership and inspiration. While too many of his brothers and sisters who led the Civil Rights Movement did not live to see the election of America’s first African-American president, John walked arm-in-arm with President Obama at the 50th anniversary of the Selma march in 2015. While Dr. King did not, as he had prophesied, make it to the Promised Land, John Lewis made it over that mountaintop to help lead our people farther on. Now, at peace and with the God in whom he always kept faith, John beckons us from our horizon’s next mountaintop, giving us hope and strength. John, we will keep our eye on the prize of a more beloved community and with your inspiration, “march on until victory is won.”