Statement From General President Schaitberger on the Death of Representative John Lewis

July 19 • 2020

“Our nation lost a civil rights pioneer, a staunch union advocate and a long-time supporter of the IAFF with the death of the Honorable John Lewis, U.S. Representative from Georgia, this weekend.

“John Lewis leaves behind a tremendous legacy. His commanding presence and his ability to be an agent of change was his great gift – one that he used to help reshape the fabric of our nation. From his participation in the march on Selma to his fearless leadership in Congress, he was dedicated to making sure that all people had their voice heard, including those of us in the labor movement.

“I was blessed with the great honor of having personally known Representative Lewis as a friend. He was an extraordinary man who lived an incredible life. His public life began as one of struggle and challenge, but ultimately led to triumph and achievement. He was elected to Congress by the people of Georgia, but he represented us all. With his calm and steady leadership, he showed that we were capable of greatness, not just as a nation but as individual citizens, as well. With a commanding and booming voice he spoke for those less fortunate and still striving for racial and social justice.

“In Congress, this friend to the working class supported legislation to help our members often, but more importantly, he had an open door that allowed frank and honest discussion about the important issues behind the words of the bill being debated. He would listen. And when John Lewis listened to you, he truly heard and understood the importance of the message being delivered. That is the hallmark of a true leader and a statesman and it was a basic tenant of who John Lewis was.

“Representative Lewis understood that there was more work to be done, however. He knew that unions like ours are a key to growing the middle class and providing opportunities for people to rise above their situations. He delivered an inspirational message as a keynote speaker at our Human Relations Conference in 2010. As we consider how best to commemorate the passing of this great American icon and celebrate his incredible legacy, we are best served to remember that at his very core was a belief of and call to fairness for all people. To honor Representative Lewis and the incredible sacrifices he made we must embrace that belief and treat one another fairly and with dignity. He is one who forced history and made our society better for all.”