CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Congressman John Lewis from Atlanta died on Friday at the age of 80 after battling pancreatic cancer.
“He changed the course of history. His actions at the Edmund Pettus Bridge shaped the modern civil rights movement,” said Congressman Richard Neal of the iconic civil rights activist.
Lewis is best known for leading some 600 protesters in the 1965 Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. He won his U.S. House seat in 1986 and served for more than three decades.
Lewis played a key role in the civil rights movement, challenging segregation, discrimination, and injustice in the deep south.
President of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services Inc., Ronn Johnson, watched a documentary on Lewis the night before the congressman passed, he woke up Saturday morning to the news.
“I couldn’t believe it but the timing for being able to be reflective, to be even more understanding of what his contributions to America, to the world in general, his non-violence message,” Johnson told 22News.
“When I think about where we are right now, in terms of the social justice issues that we’re confronting today, his message is spot on,” he continued.
Lewis was an organizer of the march on Washington in 1963 along with Martin Luther King Jr. He was arrested more than 40 times during his activism career for peacefully protesting.
Congressman Lewis spoke at a couple of commencement addresses at colleges in western Massachusetts during his time as congressman. 22News caught up with him in 2015 before his commencement address at Elms College for the advice he would give to students.
I got in, what I call good trouble, necessary trouble and I will tell these young students, these unbelievably bright minds, that they too have an obligation, a mission, to speak up, speak out, when they see something that is not right, not fair, not just, just go for it.Congressman John Lewis
Congressman Lewis leaves a legacy of activism, and getting into “good trouble” that helped change the country.