Tributes are pouring in around the country and in the Bay Area for civil rights leader John Lewis.
The Georgia congressman was known as on of the Big Six leaders in the civil rights movement. Referred to as the “conscience of the congress,” Lewis spent his entire adult life fighting for civil rights, and called on people of all ages to make “good trouble” in the fight for justice.
“Every time John came to San Francisco I participated,” said former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who met Lewis in the early 1960s.
“The occasion was an organizing effort to get people from San Francisco and the Bay Area to travel to the South to assist in the voter registration operation that was being conducted, primarily in Mississippi,” Brown said.
He said that over the years he would introduce Lewis at events or they would dine together. He recalled a strongly principled man.
“John was the most evidence of love and respect for humanity without being confrontational,” said Brown.
The mayors of both Oakland and San Francisco ordered flags at the city halls to be flown at half staff in honor of the congressman, and on Saturday night, the San Francisco City Hall lit up in red, white and blue.
In Millbrae, Jeff Steinberg is the executive director of the Sojourn Project, a group that takes students into the deep South, retracing the civil rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s, meeting key people. Lewis would guide them through what he experienced as a freedom rider, and on what became known as Bloody Sunday. Lewis met with 90 of their groups.
“He would share with the students the principals of non-violence, no violence as a way for courageous people to be,” Steinberg said.
In Steinberg’s office, there is artwork and photos related to the movement.
“I’m sad but I’m also very blessed that he was a part of me for 20 years,” Steinberg said.
But Lewis’s leadership didn’t end in the sixties. Elected to congress in 1986, he became a leader and a mentor for other members.
“On a very personal level I’m heartbroken,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Oakland. “It’s hard to imagine a world without John Lewis.”
Lee was also part of the Sojourn Project.
“Just recently in April, even with his health failing, he pulled the kids, went to the room and spoke with them,” Lee said.
Bay Area native Michelle Kohlman was among one of those groups a few years ago. She met Lewis and remembers his message.
“The main focus that John Lewis conveyed to us was not only the importance of non-violence and good trouble, but also that it was our responsibility to promote this love and acceptance,” she said.