John Lewis was the third of seven children, raised on a poor Alabama farm.
He often recounted seeing only a handful of white people as a small child. He wanted an education but found a segregated library in the nearby town of Troy, Ala. He discovered everything was segregated in Troy, throughout Alabama, throughout the South.
Young John Lewis wanted to change the world around him.
John Lewis did just that.
He spent a lifetime changing the world.
His death late last week at the age of 80 marked the passing of a congressman, a civil rights titan and a citizen who had the right to vote, the right to run for office, the right to be a fully involved member of American society.
As the Declaration of Independence promises, all people are born with these rights – all people are participants to that self-evident truth that they are indeed created equal.
John Lewis held America to that promise.
He advocated for it, standing with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the March on Washington. On the same day that King gave his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech, John Lewis was the youngest speaker at the same podium.
He demanded the promise be kept via the methods of non-violent protest, enduring curses, name-calling, violence, degradation, an arrest record, for seeking equal service at lunch counters.
John Lewis paid for the American promise with beatings and blood on the Freedom Rides and again on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
He paid for it with his freedom as he was arrested 45 times for simply insisting America keep its promise.
He became an elected member of Congress, representing Georgia, but even more, representing the promise that all people are created equal, that all people are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
He was an advocate for the promise through humble service, through humor, through persistence, strength, through moral clarity.
The loss of John Lewis leaves a gaping hole in the fabric of the nation but his life leaves an enduring legacy of hope that one day racism will be consigned to the history books and at long last the full measure of America’s promise will be kept.