State leaders salute John Lewis’ ‘good trouble’ in ‘struggle of a lifetime’

  • U.S. Rep. Richard Neal tweeted out this picture Saturday of himself and fellow Rep. John Lewis serving on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Staff Writer
Published: 7/18/2020 4:53:25 PM

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern will never forget the time he was arrested alongside civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis while they protested the Darfur genocide outside of the Sudanese embassy in Washington in April 2009. Nor will he forget the time when the two were part of a sit-in on the House floor protesting inaction on gun violence in June 2016.

These stories shared by McGovern, D-Worcester, were but a small part of a flood of condolences expressed by Massachusetts public figures for Lewis, who died Friday at 80 from pancreatic cancer.

“John often spoke of a struggle that lasts beyond a single day, week, month or year. He called it the struggle of a lifetime — but it was never his fight alone. He called on all of us to rise to the occasion and do what is right, even when it is not easy,” McGovern said in a statement. “Today, we celebrate John’s memory. His work will stir hearts and spark change for generations to come. But tomorrow, we pick up the baton, we fight for justice, and we keep making ‘good trouble.’ That is the best way for us to honor his legacy.”

Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, was the last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists — leaders of the Black equality movement who organized the legendary March on Washington in 1963. He led 600 people protesting racial discrimination over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965 and was beaten and bloodied by state troopers. Now known as “Bloody Sunday,” images of the brutality from that day were broadcast on TV and hastened the passage of the Voting Rights Act months later. 

Lewis served on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by western Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield. In a statement, Neal said that serving with Lewis in Congress has “been the honor of my life.” Lewis endorsed Neal’s reelection this year.

“John Lewis spent his entire life working to make America a better and more just place. He challenged broken systems with his good trouble and lifted our nation’s spirits time and time again through courage and unyielding optimism,” Neal said in a statement. “He showed us how love, kindness, and forgiveness are what truly make a person strong and great.”

Democratic Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey also issued statements on Lewis’ death.

“John Lewis was a true American hero and the moral compass of our nation,” Warren wrote on Facebook. “May his courage and conviction live on in all of us as we continue to make ‘good trouble’ for justice and opportunity.”

“He was a man of integrity, intelligence, and clarity of purpose, and his spirit flowed through every single protester on America’s streets chanting Black Lives Matters and making ‘good trouble,’” Markey said in a statement. “They are all John Lewis’ children, and his legacy will be found in the lasting change we must create in the weeks, months, and years ahead.”

Gov. Charlie Baker released a statement on Lewis’ death via Twitter on Saturday morning. 

“Deeply saddened to hear of the loss of Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon and an enduring advocate for justice and equality for decades,” Baker wrote. “We pray for his family as we all mourn his passing.”

Marty Meehan, president of the University of Massachusetts system and former congressman, said in a statement that Lewis was one of the first people he met when he was elected to the U.S. House in 1993. He described Lewis as a “former colleague, mentor and dear friend.”

“John’s genuine openness to sharing his time, wisdom and experience is something I will be eternally grateful for. The many hours we spent discussing issues, talking about our districts and just getting to know each other will forever be among my fondest memories of my time in Washington,” Meehan said. “I consider myself extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to know John Lewis and to stand with him.”

This story contains information from the Associated Press. Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com. 

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