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“We have lost a giant”: Tributes paid to US civil rights icon John Lewis

© J Scott Applewhite/AP/ShutterstockJohn Lewis
John Lewis

Former presidents led tributes to an icon of the US civil rights movement after his death aged 80.

John Lewis rose to prominence as one of the Big Six civil rights leaders, a group including Martin Luther King Jr, in the 1960s.

We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again. And then you holler, ‘Be patient’. How long can we be patient? – John Lewis

He was the last surviving speaker, of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, the rally where Martin Luther King delivered his historic I Have A Dream address.

Aged just 23, Mr Lewis also made a speech that day. A photograph taken of him being beaten by state troopers in Selma, Alabama, two years later would become an iconic image of the civil rights struggle.

© Everett/Shutterstock
John Lewis, hand raised, is beaten by a state trooper during Selma’s Bloody Sunday, suffering a fractured skull

Former President Barack Obama said: “Through the decades, he 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.”

Former US President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a joint statement: “We have lost a giant. John Lewis gave all he had to redeem America’s unmet-promise of equality and justice for all, and to create a place for us to build a more perfect union together.”

Mr Lewis, an Alabama sharecropper farmer’s son, and one of 10 children, became one of the original Freedom Riders who integrated buses.

He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1986, serving until his death.