HomeAsian AmericansAsian Americans join the nation in mourning death of Rep John Lewis

Asian Americans join the nation in mourning death of Rep John Lewis

AsAmNews Photo: Rep John Lewis appeared at the convention of the Asian American Journalists Association in Atlanta this past August

By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent

Asian Americans reacted with both sadness and admiration to the death of John Lewis, a civil rights icon who made fighting for immigrants one of his priorities.

Lewis served in Congress from 1987 until his death yesterday from cancer at the age of 80. He helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington with five other civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, James Farmer, A Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young. With Lewis’ passing, all of the Big six have now died.

He is also one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, a group of seven Whites and six Blacks, who rode from Washington, DC to New Orleans in 1961 to protest segregation.

In 1965, Lewis lead 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. It would be a day that would become known as Bloody Sunday. Troopers moved in with tear gas as the group stopped and prayed. Lewis’ head would end up bloodied and fractured.

“I thought I saw death,” he said just this past August at the convention of the Asian American Journalists Association while recalling Bloody Sunday. “I thought I was going to die.”

A movement had begun several months ago to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in honor of Lewis.

Vanita Gupta, an Indian American and president of the  Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said naming the bridge is one way to honor Lewis. She says, however, the bigger fight is to restore the Voting Rights Act.

It was a direct message to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

“Do not utter a word about Cong. Lewis so long as you hold hostage HR4, the bill which passed the House in December that restores the Voting Rights Act,” Gupta tweeted to McConnell.

In a 2015 guest post on AsAmNews, Rep Mark Takano (D-CA), recalled on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday a little known chapter of the civil rights movement.

“I was delighted to see that Senator Mazie Hirono and Congressman Mark Takai from Hawaii brought a reminder of our commitment to the civil rights movement – lei’s,” wrote Takano. “These lei’s served as an important reminder of our community’s solidarity with the civil rights movement, much like the lei’s that Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis wore during the third march to Montgomery in late March 1965. A little known fact is that the lei’s that were provided that day were actually a gift from Reverend Abraham Akaka, a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr.’s, and the brother of future United States Senator Daniel Akaka.”

During his Q&A at the AAJA convention, Lewis repeated a phrase he said was uttered to him by both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

He said both “encouraged me to get into good trouble, necessary trouble. I’ve been getting into trouble ever since.”

“Thank you for showing the world what good trouble looks like,” tweeted Sen. Kamala Harris last night in response to his death.

“We learned from civil rights giant Congressman John Lewis that we have “a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to speak up, speak out and get in good trouble. In honor of his legacy, we will continue on this path of good trouble,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-MI, one of two Muslim American women ever elected in Congress.

In 2013, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund awarded Lewis its Justice in Action Award.

Lewis has never forgotten the Asian American community and other immigrant communities.

In 2013, he took part in a pro-immigration reform rally which ended with the arrest of 200 protesters.

Asian Americans are often forgotten in the struggle for civil rights, but Lewis was not among them.

“John Lewis was a giant. A civil rights legend. A leader in the halls of Congress. And a moral voice for the whole nation.””Having the opportunity to serve with him was one of the great honors of my life,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), one of two Muslim American women serving in Congress.

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