Before he died, the famed civil rights activist wanted to see proof "the truth is still marching on"

By Sean Neumann
July 30, 2020 05:15 PM
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Rep. John Lewis said that before he died he wanted to see proof "the truth is still marching on."

The longtime Georgia lawmaker and famed civil rights activist wrote a final essay for The New York Times prior to his July 17 death, which the newspaper was instructed to  to publish on Thursday — the same day his funeral was held in Atlanta.

Lewis, who was 80 when he died from pancreatic cancer, wrote that he made it a point to visit the recently painted Black Lives Matter mural in Washington, D.C.'s newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza last month before he was taken to the hospital the following day.

Lewis wrote that he was "inspired" during his final days by the ongoing protests sweeping the nation against racial injustice and police brutality, following the killing of George Floyd on May 25.

"You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society," Lewis wrote. "Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division."

Georgia Rep. John Lewis stands at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., in June.
john lewis/instagram
Rep. John Lewis (right) standing with Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser at Black Lives Matter Plaza in June.
john lewis/instagram
John Lewis leads marchers across the Edmund Titus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965.
The Birmingham News

Lewis, who was the last surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer in December.

He shared images of himself standing in Black Lives Matter Plaza with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Instagram in June with the hashtags #blacklivesmatter and #goodtrouble — a reference to his call for seeking change through nonviolent protest.

Lewis wrote in his last remarks that he witnessed younger generations practicing that good trouble in recent months: "around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity."

"That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day," he wrote. "I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on."

Rep. John Lewis
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Former President Barack Obama speaks at the funeral for Rep. John Lewis in Atlanta on Thursday.
Alyssa Pointer/AP/Shutterstock

Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 for his civil service. As the youngest of the "Big Six" leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, he was a prominent activist in the South before being elected to Congress in 1986, where he served for the rest of his life.

Most famously, Lewis led the march through Selma, Alabama — remembered as "Bloody Sunday" for the police brutality protesters like Lewis survived first-hand. The march led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble," he wrote in his posthumous essay for the Times. "Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it."

He was eulogized on Thursday by three former presidents: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as family, friends and his longtime colleague in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Obama said during his eulogy Thursday that Lewis should be considered a "founding father" of a "fuller, fairer, better America.”

“What a gift John lewis was," Obama said. "We are all so lucky to have him walk with us for a while and show us the way.”