Rep. John Lewis answers questions outside of the civil rights museum on March 2, 2018. Rep. Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020 at the age of 80. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.

Rep. John Lewis, a titan in the civil rights era, was buried in Atlanta on July 30.

He was among the youngest of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s inner circle, having met Dr. King when he was only 18. He fought against segregation in the 1960s as a Freedom Rider and was a champion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Alongside Dr. King, he spoke at the 1963 March on Washington and spearheaded one of the most seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement — a march from Selma to Montogomery, Alabama in 1965 to demand voters rights.

His passion for social change compelled him to run for office. He was elected to Congress in 1986 and served Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for 17 terms.

He died July 17 at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

We asked members of MLK50’s community to share their memories of this incredible man.

John Lewis with Erika Geiss and Sheldon Neeley, currently the mayor of Flint, Mich. Photo courtesy of Erika Geiss

Michigan Senator Erika Geiss, in a message to MLK50

“When I was a freshman legislator in the Michigan State House (in 2015 — I’m currently a state Senator) — I had the honor of being able to meet with Congressman Lewis when he was the keynote speaker at our state party annual dinner event.

I was in awe of him, knowing the trail he blazed for all of us, and for me to be able to represent my community in our state legislature. While our conversation was brief, it (and his legacy) impacted me in how I approach my work in policy-making.

Especially now, in the times we’re in, the struggles we still face, I take to heart the message of having a moral obligation to do something about the things that aren’t right and for getting into good & necessary trouble.”

Author and MLK50 reader Margaret Renkl, in a Twitter post

“It was a fluke that I got to interview him — the scheduled interviewer was out of town and couldn’t get here in time for the short-notice arrangements — and it was the most inspiring hour of my life. Tears rolled down my cheeks the entire time, and he kindly pretended not to notice,” wrote author Margaret Renkl.

You can read the piece she wrote about Rep. Lewis here.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, in a Twitter post

“I met John Lewis when I was a 19 year old intern on Capitol Hill. He spent so much time with our group, pouring into us, inspiring us. You would think we were the only ones. But, we know he did that all the time. John Lewis was Superman.”

Rep. Steve Cohen, in a Twitter post

“America has lost a hero. I have lost a hero, a dear friend, a ‘good trouble’ cohort and colleague. It has been an honor to know and serve with this gentleman. He was the embodiment of Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, and heaven on earth.

In 2018, Reps. Cohen and Lewis came together in Memphis to honor the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. You can read about that pilgrimage here.

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, in a Twitter post

“One of the kindest people I have ever met. He is a giant, a hero and now our ancestor. Rest well Congressman John Lewis. Thank you for the path you laid for us. Thank you for your fight, your sacrifice and your life: all dedicated to the pursuit of equality for Black people.”

Cherisse Scott, CEO of SisterReach, in a Facebook post.

“We were so geeked when you walked by during our Capitol Hill visit photo. You were so gracious and humble. You showed so much gratitude to be in our presence and were excited to know that Black women were on Capitol Hill educating our legislators about the issues that mattered to us.

What a gift you have been to us. What sacrifice you had to have endured to dedicate your life to our success as Black people living in a strange land. Thank you for all that you have been and the ancestor you have become. You have joined the great cloud of witnesses.

We hope to continue making you as proud as you were that day. Rest in power Rep. John Lewis Ase and Amen.”

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

Got a story idea, a tip or feedback? Send an email to