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Local leaders remember John Lewis

Jaymi Butler

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John Lewis
Civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis died July 17 of pancreatic cancer.

The death of Georgia congressman John Lewis has drawn an outpouring of condolences across the nation, including right here in Pinellas County. Many community leaders have taken to social media to share their memories of the civil rights champion, who died at age 80 following a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

Some, like county commissioner Ken Welch, posted their favorite Lewis quotes. This one, which has been widely shared, comes from a June 2018 tweet and is a testament to Lewis’ gift for words.

St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman urged residents to honor Lewis’ legacy by visiting the city’s Black Lives Matters street mural. In an interview with CBS This Morning in June, Lewis said the Black Lives Matter movement “feels and looks so different” in the wake of the death of George Floyd. “There will be no turning back.”

City Council member Amy Foster shared a quote from President Barack Obama about the impact Lewis had on the world. Born the son of Alabama sharecroppers, Lewis was at the forefront of the civil rights movement from a young age and was on the front lines of the fight to end Jim Crow laws. He was beaten by police during a famous voting rights march in Selma in 1965, but didn’t let that stop him from continuing to advocate for racial equity. He would go on to be arrested more than 40 times while demonstrating against racial and social injustice.

Rene Flowers, a school board member and candidate for county commission, shared personal photos of herself and Lewis. She referred to him as an icon and a leader. He was elected to the Atlanta city council in 1981 before going on to serve as the U.S. representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for more than 30 years.

Chris Sprowls, a member of the Florida House of Representatives serving District 65, also had personal memories to share. He posted a photo of his autographed copy of Lewis’s 1998 memoir, Walking with the Wind.

Wengay “Newt” Newton, state representative for District 70, had a few simple words to say about Lewis. In 2011, he received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was placed around his neck by President Obama.

Chris Latvala, a member of the Florida House of Representatives serving District 67, praised Lewis’s tenacity and unwillingness to give up or give in. “I have been in some kind of fight – for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” Lewis said in a statement shortly after being diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.

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