Remembering John Lewis: Michigan leaders pay tribute to civil rights icon

Legacy of Rep. John Lewis includes organizing 1963 March on Washington

Local Michigan leaders respond to the death of Rep. John Lewis -- whose legacy includes organizing the 1963 March on Washington alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

DETROIT – Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, has died at the age of 80 on Friday after a six-month battle with stage four pancreatic cancer.

Many in Detroit are remembering Congressman John Lewis. Many consider him a lion of the ‘Civil Rights Movement.’ He simply had the fight inside of him -- That passion wouldn’t let him stop pushing for change.

Detroit NAACP President Reverend Wendell Anthony said his resume was incredible, “The thing about John Lewis, when I hear the term icon, he was more of a icon. He was a living legend, a living testimony of grace, kindness and humility. First of all, if you knew John Lewis, you knew somebody who was kind, who was not stuck on himself, who was despite of all of the issues and journeys, and trials that he has been on, all of the people he met all over the world, he remained a humble person,” said Reverend Wendell Anthony with Detroit NAACP.

Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the big six Civil Rights Activists. Some said, one of his greatest accomplishments was leading 600 protestors in the ‘Bloody Sunday March’ across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Lewis started serving in Congress in 1986, where he was well respected, no matter the party affiliation.

In December 2019, Lewis announced he was diagnosed with Advanced Pancreatic Cancer, calling it ‘The Fight of his Life.’

Many across the country, showing their respect from Washington D.C. to Detroit.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell said she has several memories of Lewis, from when he delivered the eulogy at her husband John Dingell’s funeral, to him providing her life long lessons, “John Lewis is truly one of the most courageous men I know, and yet he kept that. He would say go get in trouble, but the good trouble. He never believed in violence, he believed in love. He would always teach me not to hate.”

Although his journey maybe finished, Mr. Lewis, this is your time to rest. You have fought the good fight.

Rep. Lewis is survived by his son John Miles Lewis; his wife died in 2012.

Local leaders react to passing of civil rights icon

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

“Congressman John Lewis was a civil rights legend who stood firmly on the front lines of our nation’s history. Congressman Lewis dedicated his life to building a more just, equitable nation for Black Americans everywhere, and his unwavering commitment to public service has set an example for leaders across the country. His work with leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King transformed our nation. John Lewis was an icon, and I know that people everywhere will feel the impact of his passing. May we honor his legacy by continuing the work to fix the systemic racism Black Americans face every day and build a country where everyone, no matter the color of their skin, can find opportunity. My heart goes out to the congressman’s family and loved ones during this time.”

Reverend Wendell Anthony, President of Detroit Branch, NAACP

“The thing about John Lewis, when I hear the term icon, he was more of a icon. He was a living legend, a living testimony of grace, kindness and humility. First of all, if you knew John Lewis, you knew somebody who was kind, who was not stuck on himself, who was despite of all of the issues and journeys, and trials that he has been on, all of the people he met all over the world, he remained a humble person.”

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan’s 12th congressional district

“John Lewis is truly one of the most courageous men I know, and yet he kept that. He would say go get in trouble, but the good trouble. He never believed in violence, he believed in love. He would always teach me not to hate.”

Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist

“America lost one of its greatest warriors in the fight for civil rights at a time when his leadership was needed the most. As our congressional and collective consciousness for two generations, John Lewis paved the way for so many people to make history by laying the foundation upon which I and so many others stand. This loss hits deep in the soul of every American, but we find solace in knowing that he inspired a legion of champions for change to carry forward this mission of justice, so that the next generation can be, believe, and become their greatest selves. We must recommit to righting the wrongs that John Lewis fought today and every day. To the man who caused good trouble: rest in power.”

Stacie Clayton, Chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission

“The loss of civil rights icons Congressman John Lewis and C. T. Vivian on the same day is almost more than a heartbroken nation can bear. But the lesson of these men’s lives is that no matter what obstacles we face, we must never stop striving to build a better tomorrow. Both men dedicated their lives to the cause of civil rights, working side-by-side with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to secure the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act – laws that gave Black Americans some measure of hope for a more equitable future, and assured them they would now have a voice in the life of the nation. For their lifetime of service to others and the cause of justice, both men were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom - fittingly from President Barack Obama, this nation’s first Black President. The best way we can honor the sacrifice and service of these two distinguished warriors is to carry forward their fight, as John Lewis said, to redeem the soul of America,

“The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was created by the Michigan Constitution to safeguard constitutional and legal guarantees against discrimination. The Commission is charged with investigating alleged discrimination against any person because of religion, race, color or national origin, genetic information, sex, age, marital status, height, weight, arrest record, and physical and mental disability. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights serves as the operational arm of the Commission.”

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy

”The world has lost two civil rights giants, long time Georgia Congressman John Lewis and fellow Freedom Rider, C.T. Vivian. Both marched with Martin Luther King, both were beaten numerous times while protesting, and both will be forever remembered as icons in the continuing movement for justice, equality, and peace. We will grieve and continue their work so that one day we all can really breathe.”

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence of Michigan’s 14th congressional district

“The loss of Congressman Lewis is devastating not only to Congress, but everyone across the nation. He touched the hearts of America as a Civil Rights icon in this country for decades. His dedication to fighting racism and injustice was inspiring. I will forever remember his stories of the Civil Rights movement, constant words of encouragement and the reminder to get into good trouble.

“As the longest serving member of the Congressional Black Caucus, I am honored to have served with him on this caucus and my life will be forever changed by his legacy,” stated Rep. Lawrence. “America lost a fearless leader, but his legacy will live on as we continue the fight for equality. May he rest in power.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow

“Absolutely heartbroken to learn of the loss of one of our nation’s great moral leaders and my friend, Rep. John Lewis. It’s up to all of us to pick up his torch and continue his lifelong fight for justice.

John Lewis was a hero in every sense of the word. He lived fearlessly and we are a better nation for it. Sending love and condolences to his family.”

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

“I am so deeply saddened over the loss of our Icon and Hero for Voting Rights, Congressman John Lewis. His perseverance, courage and sacrifice is the reason we have a Voting Rights Act. His life and work inspired countless others, myself included, to commit our lives to protecting everyone’s right to vote. Now, a new generation of voting rights activists must lead, dedicated to continuing the ‘good trouble’ that he called on all of us to champion.”

Sen. Gary Peters

“We mourn the loss of Rep. John Lewis, one of our nation’s most extraordinary civil rights leaders and the conscience of Congress. His passing is a huge and heartbreaking loss for our country.

It was a privilege to serve with John Lewis in the House. I’ll remember him as a hero and inspiration, who never backed down from a challenge and always pursued justice and civil rights. We can honor his legacy by continuing to fight for a more inclusive and just society.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel

“Our country has lost a lion of the civil rights movement with the death of Con. John Lewis. This man’s life epitomized his strong belief in “good, necessary trouble” as he embraced non-violent activism to fight for equality. He was a mainstay at lunch counter sit-ins and with the Freedom Riders, and was the youngest keynote speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. Two years later his skull was fractured when he was brutally beaten crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. His career as an elected official followed, starting as an Atlanta city councilman and rising to Congress, where he served with calm dignity for more than 30 years. Let us remember his call to action as we continue to fight for equality for all: ‘When you see something that is not right, you have a moral obligation to do something, say something.’”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib

“We learned from civil rights giant Congressman John Lewis that we have “a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to speak up, speak out and get in good trouble.”

In honor of his legacy, we will continue on this path of good trouble.

Rest in power, Congressman.”

Rep. Justin Amash

“John Lewis was gentle and strong and kind. His message was justice, and his voice was powerful. May his memory be eternal.”

Rep. Fred Upton

“The Congress, our nation, and the world lost a giant last night. I’m truly saddened to wake to the news that John Lewis – my friend, a civil rights icon, and a powerful force for justice in our nation – passed from this world.”

Rep. Haley Stevens

“You were American hero and an incredible soul -- one of the most remarkable I have ever known. You will be so missed, Mr. Lewis. But I promise I will keep fighting for what’s right in honor of the way you lived your life and all you taught us.”

Rep. Paul Mitchell

“John Lewis was a truly remarkable civil rights leader and will be remembered for the courageous life he lived. He was respected by everyone in the House and his voice, experience and wisdom will be greatly missed. I feel immensely honored to have served with him in Congress.”

Rep. Elissa Slotkin

“John Lewis put his life on the line in the fight for justice –– not just on the Edmund Pettus bridge, but many times in a righteous struggle to validate the high ideals of our nation’s founding.

His physical courage was matched by his moral courage as the conscience of Congress.

Before his diagnosis was public, he had been scheduled to address our Lansing MLK Jr. Luncheon. When I accepted the award in his honor, I spoke of what he told us freshman members during orientation: to get into “good trouble.” That it’s not enough to simply attend -- we must act. That lesson is especially poignant now, as we continue the struggle to live up to the ideals he sought to uphold.

His life of service to our country is a reminder of what the fight for justice looks like: courageous, relentless, implacable and open-hearted.

He is irreplaceable, but all of us can and must live by his example, and emulate his courage and conviction for what is right.”

Rep. Andy Levin

“John Lewis was a pure American genius. His mix of uncluttered moral clarity with tactical brilliance made him a man for many moments, far beyond the several for which he is best known.

John’s legacy is everywhere. It is in the halls of Congress, where I was privileged enough to call him a colleague. It is on a bridge in Selma, Alabama, where he nearly lost his life in the fight for racial equality.

Perhaps most importantly, John’s legacy is in the spirit of the rainbow of Americans who continue that fight today, many of them still too young to know the man whose footsteps they are following as they make good trouble.

John’s legacy will burn brightly with every march, every sit-in, every time we reject unjust rules and institutions designed to oppress us or our neighbors. May we model his grace and his courage and continue the good trouble he started, even when -- especially when -- it is unpopular.

I feel so much gratitude to have learned from this giant of American history and to have served, however briefly, alongside him. His loss is devastating, his memory everlasting.”

Rep. Dan Kildee

“I’ll miss my friend, John Lewis. He was a legend in our midst, a real American hero. But mostly, to me, he was a friend. He always said ‘I love you, brother,' whenever we talked. He made us a better country and made me a better person to have known him.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan:

“The passing of legendary Civil Right leader Congressman John Lewis is deeply painful at this particular time in our nation's history, when his commanding presence in Congress is needed most.

His decades of courageous and moral leadership helped bring about great strides in our nation. And yet it is more clear than ever how much work remains before ours can be considered the truly just and equal society for which he spent his lifetime fighting.

That work will be difficult without his leadership, but it is work that must continue nonetheless. Before he passed, he was witness to a recommitment made by millions of Americans and people in nations around the world that Black Lives Matter.

Congressman Lewis’ life’s work continues today under a new generation of leaders. Because of that, I believe he would remain, as ever, hopeful and optimistic.”

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm

“Rest in Peace, Congressman John Lewis, a legend we all are so fortunate to have seen and lived alongside. An important chapter of history died today.”

Former Michigan Senator Carl Levin

“Our nation has lost a noble giant with John Lewis’ passing. His uncommon courage was matched by his genuine decency. His life and what he stood and fought for will inspire future generations of Americans to act -- to get closer to our ideals.”

President of Detroit City Council, former Rep. Brenda Jones

“I am having difficulty trying to express the emotions I feel as another civil rights icon has risen to his heavenly home. John Lewis was a fearless and tireless hero who challenged segregation, discrimination, and injustice. From marching with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to serving in Congress for over 30 years, John Lewis was a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement and the progress made.

President Barack Obama called him the “Conscience of the Congress” and, in 2010, presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the country’s highest civilian honor.

My heartfelt condolences go to the family and friends of Congressman John Lewis. Let us all honor his memory by continuing to peacefully protest injustice, advocate for equal justice for all, and always stay in ‘good trouble.‘”

Senate candidate John James

“I can marry the woman I love and run to protect the people I love because John Lewis marched for me.


May our Heavenly Father rest your courageous soul.”

About the Authors:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.

Natasha Dado is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit.