Family tribute for civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis held in Alabama

Remembrances held on  Saturday in Troy, Ala., for the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, who died last week at age 80.

Lewis, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District from 1987 until his death in 2020, was born and raised in Troy during the Jim Crow segregation era. He died from pancreatic cancer several months after revealing he was in Stage 4 of the disease.

Saturday was the first of six days of gatherings honoring the civil rights icon and long-time congressman. Each day was given a theme, with Saturday’s theme, “The Boy from Troy,” as a nod to the nickname Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave him when he first met him as a teenager in 1958.

The remembrances began early Saturday morning in his hometown and the day will end in Selma, the starting location of the historic 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march. The day became known as “Bloody Sunday” after demonstrators were attacked by state troopers.

The procession carrying Lewis’ body departed Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home in Atlanta’s West End where Lewis’ casket rested next to civil rights champion C.T. Vivian for much of the week.

Five of Lewis’ siblings and one of his nephews paid tribute at Troy University. Lewis was one of 10 children of sharecroppers Willie Mae and Eddie Lewis.

Brother Henry “Grant” Lewis said Lewis would “gravitate toward the least of us.” He would feed the hungry on Thanksgiving Day, and he also dropped by his nephew’s fifth grade class and surprised a student in Troy who portrayed Lewis in his Black history class.

“He worked a lifetime to help others and made the world a better place in which to live,” Grant Lewis said.

Grant Lewis added that he spoke with his brother the night before he died and he said he was “at peace and ready to meet the Lord.”

The university’s chancellor said the school’s leadership conference will be renamed for Lewis.

Lewis’ niece Mary Lewis-Jones estimated there were more than 100 relatives at the memorial service inside Troy University’s Trojan Arena.

“To come back here, and see Troy embrace him the way it has, really means a lot,” Lewis-Jones said. “He was a congressman in the fields first … Troy was his foundation. It’s a special place for all of us.”

A nephew, Edward Brewster, added “Troy was his heart,” and he came back often.

Brewster also said that Lewis had an impact on everyone in the family, including his 7-year-old son, Jaxon Lewis Brewster, who just completed a school report on his great-uncle.

“He was our hero,” Brewster said.

Pamela Lee, born two years before Lewis first crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge in his march from Selma to Montgomery, said she felt compelled to drive nearly 3 hours from Mariana, Fla., to attend the memorial service in Troy.

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