The recently deceased American legislator and civil-rights leader had a lot to say about raising one’s voice to demand justice and change and we can pay tribute to his legacy by revisiting some of his most inspiring quotes.
The past July 17, 2020, Black civil-rights leader and US Congressman John Lewis passed away at the age of 80 due to stage 4 pancreatic cancer which he battled for six months.
Born in 1940 just outside of Troy, Alabama, Lewis belonged to a poor family of sharecroppers and while he enjoyed a happy childhood, he gradually became disappointed about racial segregation in the US.
John Lewis (D-GA) is photographed in his office in the Canon House office building on March 17, 2009 in Washington, D.C. I Image: Getty Images.
After hearing Martin Luther King’s sermons about non-violent resistance to racial injustice and in the context of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, Lewis became a self-proclaimed disciple of King, earning recognition after delivering a powerful speech at the 1963 March on Washington.
Following decades of political struggle and becoming an inspiration for generations of activists and public servers that came after him, Lewis, a Democrat, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1986, where he served until the end of his life.
As a congressman, Lewis focused on healthcare, inequality, and education, apart from overseeing several reforms to the Voting Rights Act.
Lewis was also among around 40 House Democrats that took part in a sit-in at the House of Representatives in 2016 to raise awareness about gun violence.
Days after America learned about the loss of this remarkable social fighter, Essence compiled a list of quotes from his numerous speeches, interviews, and his memoir, and they are certainly worth reading and taken as precious lessons.
ON SPEAKING UP
"When we see something that's not right, not fair, or not just, we have a moral obligation to speak up and speak out to do something about it."
ON NECESSARY TROUBLE
“Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
ON FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM
“We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again.”
ON DOING THE WORK
“We come to Selma to be renewed. We come to be inspired. We come to be reminded that we must do the work that justice and equality calls us to do.”
John Lewis, D-Ga., is seen near the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Capitol Rotunda before a memorial service for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in Statuary Hall on Thursday, October 24, 2019. I Image: Getty Images.
ON THE GEORGE FLOYD DEATH PROTESTS
“It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds and thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets to speak up, to speak out, to get into what I call good trouble, but to get in the way."
ON PUSHING FOR ACTION
“Sometimes you have to not just dream about what could be—you get out and push, and you pull, and you preach. And you create a climate and environment to get those in high places, to get men and women of goodwill in power to act.“
ON CONTINUOUS ACTION
“Freedom is not a state; it is an act. (…) Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”
ON DOING THE RIGHT THING
“When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something. To do something. Our children and their children will ask us, ‘What did you do? What did you say?’
ON NEVER GIVING UP
“I was beaten, left bloody and unconscious. But I never became bitter or hostile, never gave up. I believe that somehow and some way, if it becomes necessary to use our bodies to help redeem the soul of a nation, then we must do it.
Civil Rights icon Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) prepares to pay his respects to Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) who lies in state within Statuary Hall during a memorial ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Thursday October 24, 2019. I Image: Getty Images.
“I say to people today, ‘You must be prepared if you believe in something. If you believe in something, you have to go for it. As individuals, we may not live to see the end.”
ON CHOOSING LOVE
"We are one people with one family. We all live in the same house… and through books, through information, we must find a way to say to people that we must lay down the burden of hate. For hate is too heavy a burden to bear.”