Biden marks anniversary of death of civil rights icon

ATLANTA – President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ death by urging Congress to honor the legacy of the civil rights icon by enacting laws to protect voting rights.

Biden said he often reflects on the last conversation he and his wife, Jill, had with Lewis, days before the Georgia congressman died.

“Instead of answering our concerns for him, he asked us to remain focused on the unfinished work – his life’s work – of healing and uniting this nation,” Biden said in a statement.

The president said the unfinished work includes “building an economy that respects the dignity of working people with good jobs and good wages” and “ensuring equal justice under law is real in practice and not just a promise etched in stone.”

“Perhaps most of all, it means continuing the cause that John was willing to give his life for: protecting the sacred right to vote,” Biden said. “Not since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s have we seen such unrelenting attacks on voting rights and the integrity of our elections.”

Biden said the attacks include the Jan. 6 insurrection and lies about the 2020 election.

Lewis was a high-profile civil rights activist before he won a Georgia congressional seat as a Democrat in 1986. Harris said in her own statement Saturday that he was “an American hero.”

“Congressman Lewis fought tirelessly for our country’s highest ideals: freedom and justice for all, and for the right of every American to make their voice heard at the ballot box,” Harris said.

Lewis was 80 when he died months after announcing he had advanced pancreatic cancer. He was the youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, a group led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that had the greatest impact on the movement.

Lewis was best known for leading some 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Alabama state troopers beat Lewis and other activists who were marching for voting rights that day.

In San Diego, senior U.S. lawmakers and members of Lewis’ family gathered Saturday for the christening of a Navy ship named after Lewis.

“This ship will be a beacon to the world reminding all who see it of the persistence and courage of John Lewis,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at the christening of the USNS John Lewis.

Lewis’ nephew, Marcus Tyner, said the family was grateful for the honor, but said “what would please my uncle most” is if Congress passed the voting rights bill named after him.

The ship will be the first in the Navy’s fleet of oilers designed to transfer fuel and water to vessels in the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and beyond.

In her statement Saturday, Harris recalled crossing Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge with Lewis during a commemoration in 2020.