Current and past members of Oregon’s congressional delegation offer their tributes to John Lewis, the civil rights leader and U.S. representative from Georgia, who died July 17 at age 80. Lewis was honored at the U.S. Capitol on Monday and Tuesday, and the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Rotunda there. He will be buried Thursday in Atlanta.
He served from 1987 until his death.
Links are included for relevant Facebook and video tributes:
Sen. Ron Wyden, who was in the House (3rd District) from 1981 until his election to the Senate in 1996:
“America has lost a fierce warrior for civil rights and justice for all, right when we need him most. It was the honor of a lifetime to serve with Congressman John Lewis, and we will miss you so much my dear friend.”
Also from his remarks as a co-sponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act named in Lewis’s honor:
“We all stand in the shadow of John Lewis’ legacy as a fierce advocate for the voting rights of all Americans. He was a devout believer that it was our moral obligation as citizens to stand up for the rights of the most disenfranchised, no matter what it took. We have the opportunity to cement his legacy and to secure the right to vote into black letter law,” Wyden said. “We’ve seen states fighting tooth and nail to block marginalized Americans from the ballot box. Congress cannot afford to stand idly by as Americans’ inalienable rights are trampled.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, who with others co-sponsored the Voting Rights Advancement Act named in Lewis’s honor:
“John Lewis was a powerful advocate to the very end. I will never forget standing with him in the well of the House protesting Congress’s refusal to act on gun safety, and standing with him in the Johnson Room to introduce the Equality Act to end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.
“He committed his life to ending discrimination, fighting for racial justice, and opening the doors of opportunity to all. What an incredible man. I will miss him enormously. We all will.”
Also from his remarks as a co-sponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act:
“Time and time again, he put his own life on the line to speak up for every American’s right to vote, and the best way we can honor his legacy is to continue his fight, and pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act so everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in our democracy.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who was elected to the House from the 3rd District in 1996:
“It is an honor and a joy to acknowledge a quarter-century relationship with our friend John Lewis. The better I got to know him, the deeper my respect for his courage, his determination, his strength. People have remarked about his gentle spirit and kindness, his generosity towards – I watched countless young people be introduced to him in awe, including my own grandson.
“I heard (Republican Leader Kevin) McCarthy acknowledge being in Selma with John on the 50th anniversary of that bloody Sunday. It was beyond the ability of words to express watching John on that stage, near where he was once almost beaten to death, as a member of Congress and then introducing the first Black president of the United States, Barack Obama. It’s heartening to hear so many who were polar opposites of John politically honor and praise his life and his service. They sincerely mourn his passing and salute his career.
“I would hope, Mr. Speaker, however, that we would not just respect his words, but that listen and honor his life work, his lifetime commitment to lifting people and that we find ways to work together to protect the political process for those he fought so valiantly to be able to engage. I will be forever grateful for his friendship, his example, and I hope we will all find it in our hearts to honor his mission which should be the mission of us all.”
Blumenauer speech in House chamber here:
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who was elected to the House from the 1st District in 2012:
“The passing of Congressman John Lewis is a tremendous loss, not only for the Congress but for the entire country. John Lewis lived a life of struggle, sacrifice, and service, and he inspired generations of Americans with his calm yet fierce dedication to civil rights. It was a true honor to serve with him and to get to know him as a legislator and a colleague. Without exception, he was kind and patient with everyone in every situation.
“I will always remember walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with him on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, and the nation will always remember the significance of the original walk across that bridge during which John was beaten and bloodied. As the nation reckons with centuries of systemic racism, we owe a great debt to John Lewis and the ‘good trouble’ he made in the civil rights movements of the past and present.
“To honor John Lewis in the words he often said: We will never give up, we will never give in, and we will always keep the faith.”
Bonamici Facebook entry here with photos (text as above):
Bonamici speech in House chamber here:
Former Rep. Elizabeth Furse, who was in the House (1st District) from 1993 to 1999, and was an anti-apartheid activist when she lived in South Africa:
“Soon after being elected to the U.S. Congress in 1992, I noticed that, no matter how emotional the floor speech, only the speaker gave it much attention. Members continued to converse with each other or otherwise went about their business. Then I noticed something else: Whenever John Lewis spoke, and he did so sparingly, everyone listened. John’s sincerity and his values came on so clearly and simply. He was the embodiment of what we all should have been.
“John earned his namesake, ‘the conscience of the Congress.’ He never forgot his values: his dedication to justice, kindness, and honesty.
“John could speak of those values because John had lived them and suffered for them. The scars on his head were a permanent medal of honor.
“If only we had a Congress of John Lewises. But, of course, there is only one John Lewis and we are all diminished by his absence from the House of Representatives. For the sake of our country, though, we must not lose sight of his vision for America.”
Rep. Kurt Schrader, who was elected to the House from the 5th District in 2008. He offered these remarks on March 11, 2013, after he joined Lewis on the annual pilgrimage to Selma, Ala., to commemorate the 1965 march:
“I just returned from Congressman John Lewis’ Faith and Politics Pilgrimage to Alabama and was deeply moved by the experience.
“Fifty years ago, courageous Americans stepped out of their comfort zone and confronted an unjust segregation system that not only debased Black America, but white America as well. I was struck by the intimate stories of complacency toward an immoral social norm by white businessmen and the church. I was amazed by the bravery of the Black youth that saved a floundering downtown economic boycott in Birmingham, despite the water hoses and dogs of Bull Connor. I was entranced by the bravery of two Black students willing to face a hate-filled Governor George Wallace and a thousand others at the college doors in Tuscaloosa. I was overwhelmed with Dr. King’s epiphany at the kitchen table in Montgomery late one night that he must conquer his fears and do what is morally right. I was in awe of the marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma that knew they faced violent opposition on the other side, but marched and suffered horribly anyway.
“Much like then, America now faces another soul searching moment surrounding an outdated, irrational and dehumanizing immigration system. One hundred years ago, America took all comers to its shores. Now, our byzantine immigration system encourages would be immigrants to put their livelihoods on the line in order seek the American dream. It makes criminals out of business owners and farmers for hiring folks to do work that no one else will do; work that Americans benefit from and take for granted everyday. And, it generates an unconscionable trade in human beings and human rights violations that operate in dark shadows, often beyond our legal and law enforcement systems.
“The discussion about immigration is not about documented and undocumented immigrants. It is about the very nature of who we are as Americans – our beliefs, our morals and our need to share the unalienable rights our immigrant forefathers bequeathed upon us 238 years ago. The loud lack of acceptance among a vitriolic few diminishes hope in aspiring Americans and undermines the progress we have strived for since our country’s inception. Is this our Christian theology? Are these the values of our Declaration and Constitution? Is this how we raise our children?
“Merchants and farmers whisper to me that they need and value their employees as individuals and they are critical to the fabric of a recovering American economy. But these voices must be raised loudly and convincingly in your community, in the papers and with your state and federal representatives. As Dr. King often quoted, ‘Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.’
“While individual churches and their charities have exhibited great acts of kindness toward many vulnerable families that have immigrated to our country, the leaders of organized religion must collectively demand an end to an unjust system — a system that separates husbands, wives and children for years; a system where getting to the ‘back of the line’ means waiting twenty years; a system that allows a two caste system for workers rights in this country.
“I am pleased to see young people, particularly in Latino communities, begin to step up like the African American youth did fifty years ago. Their bravery in stepping up without legislative guarantees, and solely on the President’s executive order on the Dream Act, is courageous. They captured America’s attention with their votes in this last election. Without Mano y Mano in Woodburn, Oregon, and thousands of youth oriented groups like it across America, we would not be having the discussion of comprehensive immigration reform today in Congress.
“What remains is for Congress is to have our own epiphany. To do right no matter the political cost and march across that bridge despite some vehement opposition at home. As Dr. King said in his letter from his Birmingham jail cell, ‘Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere… Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country.’
Rep. Peter DeFazio, who was elected to the House from the 4th District in 1986, the same year John Lewis was elected to Georgia’s 5th District seat in the House:
“Throughout our friendship, I was honored to bring him to Oregon to share his story, inspire our better angels and teach our community to make ‘good trouble.’ I was humbled to join him in a pilgrimage to Selma, as we retraced his brave steps and those of other civil rights soldiers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the fight for equal rights under the law. Most of all, I was proud to serve alongside him in Congress every day where he generously shared his friendship, counsel, and moral leadership.
“While this is a sad and tremendous loss for Congress, for America, and for all who are inspired by his life’s work, I am thankful that he left us with so much.
“May we be energized by the words he lived by, ‘You must be able and prepared to give until you cannot give any more. We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it, and now that need is greater than ever before.’
“Let us join together and carry the cause forward.”