American Jewish Committee (AJC) mourns the passing of Congressman John Lewis (GA-5), the civil rights giant who worked closely with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and served more than 32 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was 80 years old.

“No one in American public life was as admired as a prophetic voice calling on us to live up to our highest values and greatest aspirations, to strive to make this nation a more perfect union, as John Lewis,” said AJC CEO David Harris, who knew the Congressman for many years. “Even as he battled cancer, Rep. Lewis continued to be a powerful voice of conscience for our nation, at a time when it is once again sorely needed.”

Representative Lewis was a fighter his entire life, from the dirt-poor farm he grew up on in Alabama, to the long struggle for civil rights and the promise of America for all, to his distinguished decades of service in Congress.

“We are immensely grateful for his dedication to, and connection with, the Jewish community,” said Harris. “He was instrumental in encouraging Black-Jewish dialogue, consistently outspoken against antisemitism, one of Israel’s strongest advocates in Congress, and an active supporter of the Soviet Jewry movement in the 1970s and 1980s.”

His relationship with AJC spanned decades, from his creation of the Atlanta Black-Jewish Coalition, to, most recently, serving as a co-chair for the Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus, launched at the AJC Global Forum in June 2019. He was honored with AJC Atlanta’s Selig Distinguished Service Award (1994), AJC’s Congressional Leadership Award (2005), and AJC’s American Liberties Medallion (2018).

The medallion, AJC’s highest honor, is given in recognition of a lifetime of exceptional service in the cause of human liberty and human rights. It was presented to Lewis by AJC President John Shapiro at an event at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, an institution that Lewis himself was instrumental in creating.

"Pioneering civil rights leader, unrelenting champion of human dignity, we celebrate your lifetime of conscientious public service to make real the American promise of liberty and justice for all,” states the inscription on the AJC award.

Rep. Lewis, in his many appearances before AJC audiences in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., would often recall how he was inspired by Rosa Parks and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "to find a way to get in the way."

At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, he thanked "members of the Jewish community for getting in trouble" with him and many others in the civil rights movement. "We walked together, marched together, bled together, and, in some cases, died together.”

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