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Obama mourns the death of longtime civil rights leader John Lewis

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  • Former President Barack Obama expressed his condolences following the death of longtime Georgia lawmaker and civil rights activist John Lewis.
  • “He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” Obama said. “And 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.”
  • The two lawmakers had a deep admiration for one another. Prior to Obama’s inauguration, Lewis said, “I don’t know whether I will be able to control myself.”
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Former President Barack Obama on Friday expressed his condolences in a statement following the death of longtime Georgia lawmaker and civil rights leader John Lewis.

Lewis died at 80, seven months after he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.

“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” Obama said. “And 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.”

“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did,” Obama added. “And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”

The two lawmakers had a deep admiration for one another, despite Lewis’ early endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic primary campaign in 2008. Lewis would later back Obama and the two would eventually march together on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where in 1965, civil rights activists like Lewis protested during “Bloody Sunday.”

“Barack was born long before he could experience or understand the movement,” Lewis said of Obama and the civil rights era in a New Yorker article from 2009. “He had to move toward it in his own time, but it is so clear that he digested it, the spirit and the language of the movement.”

Obama awarded Lewis with the President Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest honor for civilians, in 2011.

Prior to Obama’s inauguration, held just one day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the time, Lewis said, “I don’t know whether I will be able to control myself.”

“I’m going to try to keep my balance and not have what I call an out-of-body experience,” Lewis said to TIME. “I want to be able to see down the Mall and past the Washington Monument and get a glimpse of the Lincoln Memorial, where we stood 45 years ago.”

“I never thought — I never dreamed — of the possibility that an African American would one day be elected President of the United States,” Lewis added. “My mother lived to see me elected to the Congress, but I wish my mother and father both were around. They would be so happy and so proud, and they would be so gratified. And they would be saying that the struggle, and what we did and tried to do, was worth it.

After Obama was sworn in for his first term, Lewis had asked him to sign a commemorative picture, according to The New Yorker. Obama reportedly signed it, “Because of you, John. Barack Obama.”

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