On Friday the world lost a giant in the fight for civil rights when Congressman John Lewis lost his life to stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
The 80-year-old legislator grew up the son of a sharecropper, marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and climbed the ranks of Congress to become one of the most celebrated politicians in the halls of Capitol Hill. In death, he will likely be remembered for his rise to recognition as a self-proclaimed disciple of King and for the 1963 speech he delivered at the March on Washington. But he will also be thought of with respect for his dedication to the cause, his tireless work in seeking freedom for all Americans, and the guidance he gave to the justice fighters who stand on his shoulders.
Along the way, Lewis dropped numerous gems in his speeches, his interviews, a memoir and candid remarks. Below are just a few words we should all attempt to live by.
“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.” —on his decision to choose love
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something. —on seeking truth, justice and equality
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. 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 the ongoing fight for equal rights
“To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we have long said that we cannot be patient. 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. And then you holler, ‘Be patient.’ How long can we be patient? We want our freedom, and we want it now.” —on the emotional toll of fighting for freedom, during his 1963 speech at the March on Washington
“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.” —on the importance of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March, during the 50th-anniversary celebration in 2015
“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. And because of the action of young and old, Black, white, Latino, Asian-American and Native American, because people cried and prayed, people will never, ever forget what happened and how it happened, and it is my hope that we are on our way to greater change.” —on Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s death
“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 his continuing dedication to nonviolence and brotherly love, as he reflected on the March on Washington with Bill Moyers
“Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. 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 what he’s learned about movement work, from his 2017 memoir, “Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America”
“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?’ For some, this vote may be hard. But we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.” —on the impeachment of Donald Trump in 2019
“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. Create a society at peace with itself, and lay down the burden of hate and division.” —on his persistent optimism despite his past during a June 2020 interview with Gayle King
“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 being ready to die for your beliefs before the fight is won