Asian Americans Mourn Passing of Civil Rights Icon and Congressman John Lewis

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The recent passing of civil rights leader John Lewis has deeply saddened many in the Asian American community who admired him and his advocacy.

Rights icon: Lewis, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 80, was the last to die among the six civil rights leaders who organized the historic 1963 March on Washington. The other leaders were Martin Luther King, James Farmer, A, Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young. 

  • On March 7, 1965, Lewis was 25 years old when he led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where they faced violence at the hands of state troopers.
  • The event, in which he suffered a terrible beating, is among the defining moments in the fight against racial injustice in the U.S. and sped up the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

  • In November 1986, Lewis was elected to Congress and has since served as U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District. 
  • Lewis announced that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer on December 29, reports the New York Times
  • “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he then said in a statement.
  • When Lewis died from the disease on Friday, his supporters mourned his passing as a huge loss to the rights movement in the country.
  • “People across America have been very, very good to me—and it doesn’t matter whether they’re black or white, Latino, Asian American, Native American people, newcomers,” he shared in an interview with NatGeo in 2018. “When they see me, they thank me. They come up, and they’re crying and say, ‘You’re my hero.’”

Impact on the Asian community: Lewis has served as an inspiration to the Asian American community, which has itself faced its own struggles for rights and freedom in America.

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  • New York-based Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, an organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans, awarded Lewis its Justice in Action Award back in 2013.
  • In the same year, he joined a pro-immigration reform rally in which many Asian American groups took part in. The coalition included the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and Institute for Asian Pacific American Leadership & Advancement, the NAACP and numerous Latino groups.
  • Lewis was among the 200 protesters calling for immigration reform who was arrested, according to NBC

  • Last year, he spoke about his participation in the civil rights movement at the Asian American Journalists Association convention held in Atlanta, reports AsAmNews
  • He shared in an interview with anchor Elaine Quijano how Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks “encouraged me to get into good trouble, necessary trouble. I’ve been getting into trouble ever since.”
  • Upon his death, colleagues and admirers paid respects to the public servant who many consider a hero.

Feature Image @repjohnlewis

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