SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Representative John Lewis has died at the age of 80. It is hard to overstate the role he played in the struggle for justice in America. As head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he was beaten on a march for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He recovered. He rose up. He used his voice and conscience for equal rights for the rest of his life.
Representative Terri Sewell represents Alabama's 7th District and joins us now. Representative Sewell, thanks so much for being with us.
TERRI SEWELL: Thank you so much for having me. It's a sad day for America to lose one of its moral compasses.
SIMON: Oh, yes. And it strikes me so much of your own personal history, in a way, is - and political history is tied up with John Lewis' life, isn't it? You represent Selma. You're the first African American woman to represent Alabama in Congress, and your mother was on the Selma City Council.
SEWELL: Yes. You know, I grew up a daughter of Selma, Ala., and I also am a lifetime member of Brown Chapel AME Church. And so I grew up watching John come back year after year to reenact Bloody Sunday. And to think that I could grow up and one day be the first Black woman to represent Alabama and to have the opportunity to thank that living legend, who I owe my very political existence to, and to get to know him as a friend is just - I'm blessed, and I feel so honored to have had the opportunity to get to know John and to get to thank John. Because of his struggle and the freedom fighters and those who crossed that bridge and dared to make America live up to its ideals, I get to now walk the halls of Congress. And so many African American elected officials owe their existence to John.
And I just - my heart is full today. I know that I mourn with the nation, but Selma really mourns for John. And we're just so grateful for his eternal light that shines so bright, and it was always hopeful in the search of that beloved community.
SIMON: We have some audio when Mr. Lewis - 55th anniversary of the remembrance of the bridge. And this is Mr. Lewis speaking to the crowd along the bridge.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN LEWIS: We must keep the faith, keep our eyes on the prize. We must go out and vote like we never, ever voted before.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Yeah.
LEWIS: Some people gave more than a little blood. Some gave their very lives.
SIMON: Representative Sewell, what inspiration and instruction do you take from John Lewis now?
SEWELL: You know, John always lended his name and his voice to the cause for equality and justice. And we're in a moment in America that we need that guidance. We need that radiation of light now more than ever. And so I was so moved that he, in the midst of his struggle with pancreatic cancer, would come on that bridge one more time this past March. And as you heard in his voice, we must keep our eyes on the prize.
This country is always in search of that more perfect union. And it was because of John and the light that he radiates that the light of love - in the midst of violence, he never, ever gave up on the beloved community. He sowed so many seeds of hope into so many people, and that John would continue to be that guiding beacon of light and hope for this nation and this world, John's legacy will live on.
SIMON: Representative Terri Sewell, a Democrat who represents Alabama's 7th District, thank you so much for remembering John Lewis with us today. Thanks very much.
SEWELL: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.