A Hero of “Good Trouble”

America lost an icon of hope and possibility last week. 

John Lewis, activist, organizer, fighter for equality, and a long-serving representative known as the “soul” of the US Congress, died of pancreatic cancer on July 17.

At age 23, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, Lewis gave a stirring civil rights speech to hundreds of thousands of people, The Atlantic recounts.

“We will go to jail if this is the price we must pay for love, brotherhood, and true peace,” Lewis told the crowd. “I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation. Get in the streets and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete.” 

A short while later, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

But Lewis did much more than talk. On March 7, 1965, he “led more than 600 protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Alabama. The marchers were bludgeoned and teargassed by police—Lewis’s skull was fractured.” 

The brutality was a revelation for many Americans. “Our modern democracy was born in front of that bridge—it should be named after John Lewis instead of Edmund Pettus, by the way,” Jesse Jackson said.

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