Barack Obama leads tributes as US civil rights leader, John Lewis, dies at 80, Trump orders flag to fly at half-staff

Barack Obama and John Lewis walked across the bridge 50 years after the landmark march. Photo: Reuters

Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey lead tributes to civil rights hero John Lewis, as testimonials are flowing in from across the United States society to the civil rights leader and Georgia congressman, who died on Friday evening at the age of 80.

Former President Obama said he “stood on the shoulders” of Lewis, and credited the activist’s sacrifices for helping him become a U.S. senator and the nation’s first African American president.

US presidents and foreign leaders have also joined the tributes to civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga), who died of pancreatic cancer.

Lewis was one of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders, which included Martin Luther King Jr, and helped organise the historic 1963 March on Washington.

President Donald Trump later said in a tweet that he was “saddened” to hear of the former congressman’s death.

President Trump also on Saturday ordered flags to fly at half-staff following the death of civil rights icon and longtime congressman, Lewis.

Trump issued a proclamation which stated that the act was “a mark of respect for the memory and longstanding public service” of Lewis, who died on Friday at the age of 80.

The flags will fly at half-staff for the remainder of the day all across the world, including at the White House, all public buildings, military posts and stations, U.S. embassies and consular offices abroad, as well as naval vessels.

Also, a petition to rename a bridge in Alabama that played a pivotal role in Lewis’s life has drawn more than 400,000 signatures.

The US Democrats presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said the lifelong activist was “truly a one-of-a-kind, a moral compass who always knew where to point us and which direction to march.”

Biden said he had spoken to Lewis in the days before his death.

“We are made in the image of God, and then there is John Lewis,” the former vice president wrote in a statement. “How could someone in flesh and blood be so courageous, so full of hope and love in the face of so much hate, violence, and vengeance?”

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“His voice still commanded respect and his laugh was still full of joy. Instead of answering our concerns for him, he asked about us. He asked us to stay focused on the work left undone to heal this nation.”

Lewis, who died Friday night, carved his place in history with a lengthy career advocating for civil rights, from being beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on “Bloody Sunday” to serving 17 terms representing an Atlanta-area district in Congress.

He often clashed with Trump, dating back to the president’s 2016 campaign. After Trump was elected, Lewis refused to attend the inauguration and influenced more than 60 Democrats to do the same.

In 2017, Lewis accused Trump of not being a “legitimate president,” leading Trump to fire back that the Democrat should worry about his own “horrible” district instead.

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!” Trump wrote in a series of tweets.

U.S. politicians from both parties, as well as international leaders, paid homage to Lewis.

• Additional contributions The Guardian and The Hill.