What Were John Lewis’ Last Words Before His Death?

John Lewis last words

Getty Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus wait to enter as a group to attend the memorial services of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) at the U.S. Capitol October 24, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Civil rights icon and Georgia Representative John Lewis wrote his poignant last words in an essay to be published on the day of his funeral.

Congressman Lewis died July 17, 2020, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. His last words were published in The New York Times, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and other news outlets. They were also read by Morgan Freeman, his friend.

His poignant words spoke of hope and dismantling division.

“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me,” his essay began. “You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division.”

A documentary about John Lewis’ life, “John Lewis: Celebrating a Hero,” will air at 10/9C on CBS Tuesday, August 4, 2020.

Read on for the full essay, or listen to Freeman read Lewis’ last words here or below:


‘Now it is your turn to let freedom ring,’ John Lewis Wrote in His Final Essay

Congressman John Lewis wrote his last words in the days before his death, and asked that they be published on the day of his funeral. Lewis wrote about the hope he sees for future generations of Americans. He said he has seen divisions set aside. The day before he was admitted to the hospital, he visited Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, he wrote.

“I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on,” Lewis wrote.

He wrote that Emmett Till was his George Floyd, his Rayshard Brooks, his Sandra Bland and his Breonna Taylor. Till was 14 when he was killed, and Lewis was only 15 at the time.

“In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars,” he wrote.

He feared that a quick trip to the store for Skittles could turn violent, or a morning jog could turn deadly. Then, he heard the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio.

“He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice,” Lewis wrote. “He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

Morgan Freeman Reads Rep. John Lewis’ Last Words | The Last Word | MSNBCIn a special Last Word, Morgan Freeman reads the words of John Lewis’ final essay, which he requested be published in the New York Times on the day of his funeral: “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation.” Aired on 7/30/2020. » Subscribe to MSNBC: http://on.msnbc.com/SubscribeTomsnbc MSNBC delivers breaking news, in-depth analysis of…2020-07-31T04:29:50Z

Read John Lewis last words:

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division.

Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity. That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day.

I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on. Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland, and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time.

I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare.

If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice.

He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state.

It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself. Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.

Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it. You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time.

People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way.

Now it is your turn to let freedom ring. When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

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