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Music World Honors John Lewis: Jennifer Hudson, Billy Porter, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry And More Pay Tribute To The Late Civil Rights Icon
Across social media, the music world is honoring Congressman John Lewis, an iconic leader of the civil rights movement, who died Friday (July 17) following a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer.
"Rest In Peace congressman, civil rights icon, John Lewis! We thank u and will always remember you and celebrate you for your work," GRAMMY winner Jennifer Hudson wrote on Instagram.
"This is the man that taught us all how to get into some #GoodTrouble," GRAMMY-winning performer, singer and actor Billy Porter tweeted. "One of my heroes. A true legend. Thank you for teaching us how to fight for liberty & justice for all mankind … "
"John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation – from the determination with which he met discrimination at lunch counters and on Freedom Rides, to the courage he showed as a young man facing down violence and death on Edmund Pettus Bridge, to the moral leadership he brought to the Congress for more than 30 years," Pelosi said in her statement.
"It is with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness that we announce the passing of U.S. Rep. John Lewis," his family said in a statement, according to Rolling Stone. "He was honored and respected as the conscience of the U.S. Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the on-going struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He dedicated his entire life to non-violent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America. He will be deeply missed."
Born a son of sharecroppers in 1940 in Troy, Ala., Lewis was an instrumental figure in the ongoing fight for racial justice and equality. A lifelong public servant and civil rights leader, serving more than three decades in Congress, he got his start in politics as a student activist. He was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, a group of civil rights activists "who challenged segregated interstate travel in the South in 1961," according to The New York Times, and was the last surviving member of the Big Six, a group of civil rights leaders that included Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young. Lewis also helped organize the 1963 March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom, where he spoke and where King Jr. delivered his eternal "I Have A Dream" speech.
In 1965, as part of the Selma-to-Montgomery protest marches, Lewis led a march comprising 600 people who were demanding equal voting rights. When he and the group of nonviolent activists reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., they were severely beaten by state troopers, who had previously ordered the protestors to disperse. Dozens of protestors were injured and hospitalized, including Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull after a trooper hit him with a billy club, according to the New York Times.
The highly televised event, which came to be infamously known as "Bloody Sunday" and immortalized in the 2014 film Selma, sparked outrage across the U.S. and helped galvanize support for the Voting Rights Act, according to The New York Times.
Presented to Congress by President Lyndon B. Johnson eight days after the violent confrontation, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law in August 1965, marking a milestone moment in the civil rights movement and removing previously installed legal barriers that prevented Black people from exercising their right to vote, according to HISTORY. The law would ultimately help Black citizens run for, and win, public office, including Lewis himself, The New York Times writes.
Throughout his decades-long career in the U.S. government, representing Georgia's 5th congressional district, which includes Atlanta, Lewis became known as "the conscience of the Congress" for his focus on the ongoing fight for universal social and racial justice. Having been arrested for participating in nonviolent movements and protests dozens of times throughout the decades, he lived by the mantra of getting into "good trouble" in the name of equality. The maxim inspired the title of the newly released documentary, John Lewis: Good Trouble, which follows his life and legacy.
Lewis remained active in his later years. In 2016, he led a sit-in on the House floor in which he and other Democrats demanded a vote for gun control measures following the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
"The way this young man died—watching the video, it made me so sad," Lewis said of Floyd in an interview with "CBS This Morning" in June. "It was so painful; it made me cry. I kept saying to myself, 'How many more? How many more young Black men will be murdered?'
"It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds of thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets—to speak up, to speak out, to get in what I call 'good trouble' … "
Last month, Lewis visited the newly erected Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., alongside the city's mayor, Muriel Bowser.
A beloved politician and social figure, Lewis transcended politics and entered mainstream pop culture. Actor Stephan James portrayed Lewis in the 2014 Oscar-winning film, Selma. Lewis also made a cameo in the music video to Young Jeezy's 2008 track "My President," which is inspired by President Barack Obama and features Nas. Lewis guest starred on the animated children's TV show "Arthur" in 2018.
Elsewhere, Lewis released his award-winning autobiography, "Walking With The Wind: A Memoir Of The Movement, in 1998. He also released "March," his autobiographical graphic novel series about the civil rights movement, throughout the mid-2010s.
In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, considered to be the nation's highest civilian honor.
Following the death of John Lewis, artists from the music and entertainment worlds commemorated the late icon.