Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay and More Remember John Lewis: "What Warmth and Wisdom He Leaves Behind for Us"

US Congressman John Lewis - Getty - H 2020
ZACH GIBSON/AFP via Getty Images

The Georgia congressman, who was the last remaining member of the Big Six civil rights activists, died Friday.

Civil rights icon and Georgia congressman John Lewis died late on Friday at the age of 80. When confirming his passing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called him "one of the great heroes of American history."

Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was best known for leading 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march in Selma in 1965.

As news of his death spread online on Saturday morning, many top names from politics and entertainment posted tribute messages and recollections from meeting Lewis over the years or conducting interviews with the late icon. 

Oprah wrote that last week when there were false rumors of Lewis' death, she and CBS News anchor Gayle King called him and were able to have a conversation with him. "I had a final chance to tell him what I've said every time I've been in his presence: "Thank you for your courage leading the fight for freedom. My life as it is would not have been possible without you."

She also posted one of his last interviews, which was about the 2020 documentary Good Trouble. "Thank you for showing and teaching us what getting into "good trouble" looks like," wrote Oprah.

Ava DuVernay posted a clip from a press appearance following her film Selma, where she shared the stage with Lewis. "What an icon," she wrote. "So grateful to have had any time with him. What warmth and wisdom he leaves behind for us. My goodness we will miss him so."

Gayle King remembered Lewis as a "class act" who was "gracious, concerned and indomitable." She posted the last interview she did with the civil rights activist on June 4 this year, following the death of George Floyd.

MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow shared an interview she did with Lewis in Kentucky in 2013 about the civil rights movement, writing that it was "one of the most memorable and moving experiences of my professional life."

"John Lewis inspired millions to fight for justice," wrote Bernie Sanders on Twitter. "His courage helped transform this country. He won’t ever be forgotten by those who believe America can change when the people stand together and demand it. Our thoughts are with his loved ones."

Motion Picture Association chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin wrote in a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter

"'Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.’ Those were the words of Congressman John Lewis in his 2017 memoir — and they were the words he embodied throughout the entirety of his incredible life. From his efforts as a young protestor and leader in the Civil Rights Movement, to serving on Capitol Hill for 17 terms and becoming the ‘conscience of Congress,’ John Lewis was a living bridge spanning the pivotal social justice movements of our time. Over the course of his life, he stayed true to his guiding principles and never backed down from speaking up – inspiring generations of activists and leaders to follow."

Rivkin continued, "In the film, television, and streaming industry especially, we understand the importance of how words and stories can challenge our view of society, and how they can make an everlasting impact on our history. Few Americans have changed the course of history like Congressman John Lewis did through his words and actions."

The MPA chairman went on to call Lewis "unquestionably an American hero," as well as "a true patriot, and an incomparable example of how to use our voice to make a difference." Rivkin wrote, "We are all indebted to him for the ‘good trouble’ he made during his 80 years of life, and his never-ending fight to push our nation – and our world – forward. While we are deeply saddened to have lost such an icon, I am grateful for the opportunity we have to honor his legacy by continuing to raise our voices."

Barack Obama posted a lengthy statement on Medium, where he wrote that Lewis "not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example."

"John Lewis was the truest kind of patriot," tweeted Hillary Clinton alongside a photograph of herself with Lewis. "He believed America could be better, even live up to its highest founding ideals of equality & liberty for all. He made good trouble to help us get there. Now it’s up to the rest of us to carry on his work. Rest in power, my friend.

"We are made in the image of God, and then there is John Lewis," wrote former vp and current presidential candidate Joe Biden. "He was truly one-of-a-kind, a moral compass who always knew where to point us and which direction to march. To John’s family, friends, staff, and constituents, Jill and I send you our love and prayers."

Kamala Harris wrote that the world is "dimmer" this morning without John Lewis in it. "He carried the baton of justice until the very end. It's now on us to pick it up and march on."

Cory Booker also took to Twitter, writing, "My heart is saddened. Last night John Lewis died, but for 80 years he showed us how to truly live. Our hero is with God. May we be his legacy. May we love as courageously; serve as humbly; and until justice rolls down like water, may we always cause Good Trouble."

"John Lewis was a fighter," wrote Amy Klobuchar. "He tirelessly fought injustice. He fought cancer. He carried himself with strength & courage and he always fought for the American promise: liberty and justice for all. I will miss him dearly." She included a link to a Medium post with a longer tribute to the civil rights activist.

Read these tributes and more, below.