Guam leaders pay tribute to civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis; ‘he supported Guam’

Rep. John Lewis (ABC News photo)

Guam leaders have issued statements mourning the passing of civil rights icon and member of Congress John Lewis, paying tribute to his achievements in Congress and the civil rights front, as well as remembering his unwavering support for Guam.

The Georgia Democratic Congressman died Friday at the age of 80.

Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas said: “On a particularly long voting day, I had the privilege of being a seatmate to Congressman John Lewis. As renowned as he was, he never carried himself as if he was above anyone, even some brand new freshman from perhaps the smallest district elected into the 116th Congress.”

San Nicolas added: “It felt like sitting next to a lion – not in a dangerous sense – but in the only way that one can describe sitting next to a living icon of American History. And in that brief period, his warmth and graciousness was a reaffirmation for me of what he dedicated his life to … that everyone sit next to one another as brothers and sisters. God welcomes you into His Eternal Kingdom John.”

Former Guam Congressman Robert Underwood said he came to know Lewis during his time of service in the US Congress.

“I came to admire him not only as a fellow member of Congress but as a real icon. He not only taught us lessons about how to behave, and how to interact with other people, he was inspirational by his very being. In many ways, he was the Conscience of the Congress. As I reflect upon the many years of knowing him, I am reminded about how he confronted injustice, how he dealt with it, how he overcame it, and how he inspired others to do the same,” Underwood said.

According to Underwood, Lewis held annual vigils in crossing the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

“I, and one of my sons, Raphael, were fortunate enough to attend one of those events. We spent the weekend; we went to church; we heard the lessons. We crossed the bridge, arm in arm with John Lewis, a true hero for all of us. I would like to add, that he never hesitated to support any of the issues pertaining to Guam, and that he came to Guam as a part of a CODEL, and generously spent his time here on island. He was a wonderful human being, and an inspiration to all of us,” Underwood said.

Known as the “conscience of the U.S. Congress,” Lewis continually represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, which includes most of Atlanta, since taking office in 1987. His cancer diagnosis in December 2019 did not interrupt that streak.

“So I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the Beloved Community. We still have many bridges to cross,” he said in a statement at the time.

The Democratic Party of Guam also praised Lewis as a civil rights leader who rallied alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. in the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

Lewis had led and participated in many marches as an advocate for the destruction of racism. Lewis was in the forefront of massive rallies bringing together hundreds of thousands of Americans raising the consciousness of social injustice.

In 2016, Guam delegates met Lewis at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Being in the audience with delegates from the states and territories, the Honorable John Lewis struck me as an incredible force of optimism in the United States. Lewis stood out as a gentle man who spoke with great fervor always for the people who were the most disenfranchised,” said Sarah Thomas-Nededog, Democratic Party of Guam Chairwoman. “There was an automatic bond between us as if we were of kindred spirits in the few moments we spoke,” Nededog reflected.

Community leader and Democratic National Committeewoman Taling Taitano also shared her sentiments, noting that “The world loses a civil rights icon in John Lewis, a man who has dedicated his life to justice. He has left the world a better place.”

On behalf of the Guam Legislature, Speaker Tina Rose Muña Barnes said that “Lewis’ commitment to civil rights has allowed our nation to become a true beacon of hope and a testament to the original virtues of our founding fathers.”

As a member of US Congress for 16 years, Madeleine Z. Bordallo proudly served with Representative Lewis. “He was a kind man, a real fighter and well respected by all of Congress. I will miss him.”

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero also shared her thoughts on the passing of the distinguished and globally respected statesman. The governor said: “The passing of Lewis is a great loss to the continued protection of our civil rights. His unwavering advocacy in the right fights led to a fair and safe society. It is an honor to be a democrat believing in the same principles that he fought for decades. The people of Guam send our deepest condolences to his family, colleagues, and to the American family.”

Back in the US, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation – from the determination with which he met discrimination at lunch counters and on Freedom Rides, to the courage he showed as a young man facing down violence and death on Edmund Pettus Bridge, to the moral leadership he brought to the Congress for more than 30 years.”

(with a report from ABC News)