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'The World Has Lost a Legend': Civil Rights Hero John Lewis Dies at 80

"It is up to us to pick up his mantle and carry on."

Georgia Rep. John Lewis speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 2013 in Washington, D.C. commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. (Photo: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Georgia Congressman John Lewis, whose courageous activism throughout the 1960s in the face of beatings by white supremacist mobs and police helped galvanize the movement for civil rights, died Friday after a six-month fight with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Lewis' family announced his passing in a statement Friday evening.

"He was honored and respected as the conscience of the U.S. Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother," the statement reads. "He was a stalwart champion in the ongoing struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He dedicated his entire life to non-violent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America. He will be deeply missed."

Lewis was elected to represent Georgia's 5th congressional district in 1987 after years of involvement with the campaign to dismantle Jim Crow and secure civil rights for Black people. Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders, was among the demonstrators brutally beaten by police during a peaceful march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965.

"The world has lost a legend; the civil rights movement has lost an icon, the city of Atlanta has lost one of its most fearless leaders, and the Congressional Black Caucus has lost our longest serving member," the CBC said late Friday. "Despite more than 40 arrests, brutal attacks, and physical injuries, Mr. Lewis remained devoted to the philosophy of nonviolence in his fight for justice and equality."

"John Lewis was a national treasure and a civil rights hero for the ages," the NAACP said in a statement early Saturday. "We are deeply saddened by his passing but profoundly grateful for his immense contributions to justice. He used every waking moment of his 80 years to push this country toward more representative democracy and left behind a remarkable model."

"It is up to us to pick up his mantle and carry on," the group added, "and we urge the entire nation to join us."

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