Before entering politics, Lewis led marches and protests as the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a lieutenant of Martin Luther King Jr. He was severely beaten in 1965 during a march across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, a demonstration that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” and was a pivot point for the civil rights movement.
Lewis, who had risen to become the longest-serving member of Georgia’s congressional delegation, was widely praised by members of both parties for being a rare voice who could cut across the bipartisan rancor. His floor speeches were considered events that no one should miss. The U.S. House recently renamed a voter access law the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
On the morning of his funeral, July 30, Lewis’s family released an essay he wrote in his final days. He implored his memory to be kept alive with a spirit of activism and pursuit for equal rights.
“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble,” he wrote. “Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”