By ROBYN H. JIMENEZ
The Dallas Examiner
Noted as “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,” Congressman John Robert Lewis has begun the fight of his life. According to a report from his office, he recently learned from doctors that he must undergo treatment for pancreatic cancer. He released a statement Dec. 29 regarding his prognosis and his plans to continue to serve the people of the 5th Congressional District of Georgia, which he has served since 1987.
“I have been in some kind of fight – for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life,” he reflected. “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now. This month in a routine medical visit, and subsequent tests, doctors discovered Stage IV pancreatic cancer. This diagnosis has been reconfirmed.”
Lewis went on to say that he was clear on fact about his diagnosis, however his doctors informed him that pancreatic cancer is now treatable with more effective treatment options that are less debilitating, due to recent medical advances.
“So I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the beloved community,” he announced. “We still have many bridges to cross.
As with the many battles he has championed in the past, Lewis indicated that this fight was not just for himself and his family, but also for his constituents and to be able to continue his fight for justice and equality – a fight he decided to join at the age of 17, after listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks on the radio. Having grown up during segregation and witnessing the atrocities of discrimination and injustice that African Americans endured, he was determined to do what he could to fight for equality and justice.
He joined the Civil Rights Movement in 1960 as a student at Fisk University, when he began organizing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters at restaurants in Nashville, according to his biography.
He joined the Freedom Riders in 1961 to help integrate the interstate buses of the segregated South, which his biography noted put his life – and the life of the other 12 Freedom Riders – at risk over and over by sitting in White-only bus seats. He was the first of the group to be attacked during the rides and sustained a head injury and was arrested in another incident, according to a Smithsonian Magazine report on the group.
In 1963, he helped organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was named chairman, according to his bio. The group helped organize student civil rights demonstrations.
At the age of 23, he was the youngest of six men known as the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, which organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, held Aug. 28, 1963. Close to 250,000 people joined the march through the streets of the capitol to bring attention to the injustices that African American endured at that time, according to a PBS report. Lewis was one of many speakers, however, King’s I Have a Dream speech highlighted the event.
In 1963, he led the SNCC in organizing voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer, according to his bio.
The bio also documented the hundreds of marches for voting rights that he and Civil Rights Leader Hosea Williams led across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, which led to Bloody Sunday, when Alabama state troopers viciously attached the marchers who dared to bring their demonstration across the bridge to Montgomery, as the newspapers recorded and radio and TV new stations broadcasted the inhumane attack. Undeterred, the group called in King to help them regroup, and inevitably successfully crossed the bridge with close to 25,000 marchers. The efforts helped to accelerate the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Over the next 12 years, as his bio noted, Civil rights hero’s efforts led him to a seat on the Atlanta City Council in 1981, and then on to Congress in 1986, where he serves as the Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party in leadership in the House, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and chairman of its subcommittee on Oversight.
Looking back, Lewis sent a message to his district that reflected his strength and determination.
“To my constituents: being your representative in Congress is the honor of a lifetime,” he stated. “I will return to Washington in coming days to continue our work and begin my treatment plan, which will occur over the next several weeks. I may miss a few votes during this period, but with God’s grace I will be back on the front lines soon.
“Please keep me in your prayers as I begin this journey.”