Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon, died at the age of 80 after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2019. He had a large family who loved and supported him. His family supported him throughout his life.
Here’s what you need to know about John Lewis’ family.
1. His Parents Married a Year After They Met
John Lewis’ parents were sharecroppers in Alabama, according to his bio. He grew up on the family farm and attended segregated public schools. His mom was Willie Mae (Carter) Lewis and his dad was Eddie Lewis, The Atlanta Voice reported. His parents married a year after they met, he shared in his memoir.
His dad built the home his mom lived in for a long time, he shared in his memoir. The family built a new home for his mom, after his dad passed away, in 1996.
In his memoir, John Lewis said that his great-grandfather, Frank, was born into slavery. He said Frank’s parents once owned a farm that they sold for a profit, and he thinks they may have been pressured to sell it.
2. John Lewis Preached to Chickens as a Boy
Lewis said that when he was growing up, he wanted to be a minister someday. So when he was a boy he’d preach to the chickens at his farm as a way of practicing, AJC reported.
The Montgomery Bus Riot and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were huge inspirations to John Lewis when he was growing up.
3. John & His Wife Lillian Adopted Their Son When He Was Two Months Old
John Lewis has one adopted son, John Miles Lewis, according to his bio. He and Lillian adopted John Miles in 1976 when he was just two months old. John Lewis said he fell in love with his son the very first time he saw him.
A 2004 article in The Washington Post revealed that John Miles Lewis was in the hip-hop business, both writing and performing. His dad wasn’t completely on board until he read one of his son’s songs, called “Political Behavior.” John Miles Lewis said he was open to maybe being in politics one day, but that wouldn’t happen until he was at least in his mid-30s or his 40s.
4. His Wife Was His Closest Political Advisor
John Lewis’ beloved wife, who passed away in 2012, was his closest political adviser and the one who originally convinced him to go into politics after a long career as a civil rights activist.
TV host Xernona Clayton spoke at Lillian’s funeral, reminiscing on how she helped Lillian and John meet, WABE reported. She said that after they were married, Lillian “immersed herself deeply” into John’s work and his career. “Lillian was a work horse, not a show horse,” he said.
Before Lillian died, she urged her husband to continue his political work, AJC reported.
5. He Has Nine Brothers & Sisters
John Lewis comes from a large family of nine brothers and sisters. His siblings included three sisters: Ethel, Rosa, and Ora. He had seven brothers: Adolph, Edward, Grant, Freddie, Sammy, and William. He’s the third-oldest of the group.
He said his brother, Edward, was deaf since he was born in 1938, but he was “one of the most expressive people I know, as well as one of the most self-reliant.” He lived in a trailer across from his mom’s house and spent most of his life with hands-on jobs like cutting timber or working machinery. He said that Edward looked after his mom after his dad’s death, but his mom was still pretty self-reliant even at 84.
Lewis also said in his memoir, Walking with the Wind, that his youngest brother, Sammy, and his brother Grant both lived within sight of his mom’s home. His brother Freddie lived in Detroit until he moved his wife and children back to their hometown because he felt they would have better influences there. His said Ora lived in Detroit, Ethel in Troy, and Rosa in Richmond, California.
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