“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” Obama wrote after Lewis’ death from pancreatic cancer. “And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”
He “embraced the principles of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as the means to bring about real change — understanding that such tactics had the power not only to change laws, but to change hearts and minds as well,” added Obama, who in 2011 awarded the congressman the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
And though he was exceptional, Lewis always believed that everyone could do exactly what he did, Obama recalled.
“He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, a longing to do what’s right, a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect,” Obama wrote.
“And it’s because he saw the best in all of us that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in that long journey towards a more perfect union.”
Obama said that after he became an Illinois senator, he told Lewis he was standing “on his shoulders” because of the congressman’s struggles for civil rights.
“When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made,” Obama noted.
Lewis and Obama last shared a public forum with activists helping to organize Black Lives Matter marches in the wake of the brutal police killing of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis.
“He could not have been prouder of their efforts — of a new generation standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation intent on voting and protecting the right to vote, a new generation running for political office,” Obama wrote. “I told him that all those young people — of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — they were his children.”
“Thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders,” the former president wrote.
Read Obama’s entire statement honoring Lewis here.