Barack Obama praised Lewis, 80, for the physical and emotional sacrifices he made for the US as an original Freedom Rider, March on Washington organizer and leader of the “Bloody Sunday” demonstration from Selma to Montgomery — during which a police officer broke Lewis’ skull during a beating.
“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 in a statement posted to Medium.
“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.”
Bill Clinton also heaped praise on the late Democrat, tweeting that Lewis “gave all he had to redeem America’s unmet promise of equality and justice for all, and to create a place for us to build a more perfect union together.
“In so doing he became the conscience of the nation.”
Lewis, often referred to as the “Conscious of Congress,” inspired reverence from Democrats and Republicans alike over his more than three decades serving as a Georgia elected official.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hailed Lewis as a “pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism, promote equal rights, and bring our nation into greater alignment with its founding principles.”
“Congressman Lewis’ place among the giants of American history was secured before his career in Congress had even begun,” McConnell added.
“This son of sharecroppers in segregated Alabama helped to found and lead the mid-century Civil Rights movement.”
“Selma” actor Wendell Pierce said Lewis “changed America.”
“There is blood on that ballot box that he shed to protect our rights for generations to come,” Pierce tweeted.
Lewis “was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote. “Every day of his life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all.”
Lewis, who was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer n December last year, was among the more liberal Democrats in Congress, advocating against the Iraq war and in defense of immigrant children.
Lewis said he’d been arrested 40 times in the 1960s and five more times after becoming a congressman.
Andrew McCutchen, a Philadelphia Phillies outfielder and one of the most prominent black stars in baseball, offered his thanks.
“Thank you for your courage, your sacrifice and your leadership,” he tweeted with a photo of Lewis.
“Rest In Paradise #JohnLewis. May we continue to honor your legacy and be a voice for the voiceless.”