In an essay written two days before his death and published by the New York Times on Thursday, civil rights icon John Lewis offered a parting message of hope amid ongoing protests for racial equality.
Lewis, who rose to prominence during the civil rights era and was the youngest person to speak at the 1963 March on Washington before embarking on a decades-long career in Congress, wrote that he was uplifted by the activism he saw in recent weeks and urged young Americans to continue the fight for equality.
“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division,” Lewis said in the essay, which was published ahead of his funeral in Atlanta.
“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe,” he continued.
Lewis died on July 17 at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was unable to participate in the marches that took place across the nation in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the end of May. But he said before he died that they were “so moving and so gratifying.”
In his essay, Lewis spoke of his own awakening to the cause of racial equality when he was a teenager, likening it to the awakening millions of young people are now experiencing in the wake of Floyd’s death.
“Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me,” he wrote.
He went on to urge demonstrators to continue making noise, and warned that the democratic process is not guaranteed.
“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it,” he wrote.
Lewis is being laid to rest on Thursday after a funeral service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Former President Barack Obama is expected to deliver a eulogy.