The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus is among a chorus of prominent voices who are, who after a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer.
“He had so much influence and was responsible for so much incredible change in our country that his name will live on,” said Rep. Karen Bass.
The Congressional Black Caucus released a statement after his death, calling Lewis “the conscience of our caucus.”
“The world has lost a legend; the civil rights movement has lost an icon, the City of Atlanta has lost one of its most fearless leaders, and the Congressional Black Caucus has lost our longest serving member,” it said. “The Congressional Black Caucus is known as the Conscience of the Congress. John Lewis was known as the conscience of our caucus.”
It said that despite over 40 arrests, brutal attacks and physical injuries, Lewis “remained devoted to the philosophy of nonviolence in his fight for justice and equality, even to this day, as America faces another reckoning with racism and hundreds of thousands around the world spark a modern-day civil rights movement against police brutality and racial injustice.”
Lewis is the last and youngest of the Big Six civil rights activists who were instrumental in organizing the March on Washington to pass away.
Bass said his influence extended across both aisles.
“No matter what was going on in the House, no matter how divisive it became, there was always Mr. Lewis that would just have that moral authority that would allow us to rise up above our partisan differences,” she said.
Bass recounted an instance in which she said a Republican colleague introduced an amendment that would cut funding that was meant for the enforcement of.
“Mr. Lewis saw it on TV from his office, he ran down to the floor and gave one of those incredible speeches,” she said.
According to Bass, their colleague then publicly apologized and withdrew the amendment.
“That was the power that he had in the House of Representatives,” she said.
Bass marched with Lewis, former President Barack Obama and hundreds of others across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 2015 on the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma to Montgomery march. In 1965, Lewis, who helped organize the march, was violently beaten on the day now known as “Bloody Sunday.”
She said she hoped to cross it again “when that bridge is renamed for him.”
On a personal level, Bass credited Lewis and his “calm demeanor” for teaching her the patience needed to affect change in Washington.
“I think he taught us how you should go about creating change when you have differences,” she said. “And I think that’s part of his legacy.”
She said in all her years working with the Lewis, she never called the civil rights giant by his first name.
“That was one thing he used to always say to me, he tried to get me to call him John,” she said. “And I told him, I said no, Mr. Lewis, I’m never calling you John. You’re Mr. Lewis to me.”