Rep. John Lewis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011

Rep. John Lewis, who died at the age of 80 after a battle with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, spent his life dedicated to the cause of racial equity and justice. Over six decades, he went from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the halls of Congress with the same fight for equality and democracy in mind.

In 2011, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. Obama addressed Lewis as the “conscience of the United States Congress,” for his courage and unwavering commitment to justice.

Here is what President Obama said of Rep. Lewis, in full:

“There’s a quote inscribed over a doorway in Nashville, where students first refused to leave lunch counters 51 years ago this February. And the quote said, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” It’s a question John Lewis has been asking his entire life. It’s what led him back to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma after he had already been beaten within an inch of his life days before. It’s why, time and again, he faced down death so that all of us could share equally in the joys of life. It’s why all these years later, he is known as the Conscience of the United States Congress, still speaking his mind on issues of justice and equality. And generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind — an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.”

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