Lillian Miles Lewis, the "devoted wife" of Congressman John Lewis, D-Atlanta, has died, the civil rights icon's office said today in a statement.
According to a 2003 Atlanta Magazine profile, Lewis and the Los Angeles native, a librarian at Atlanta University, were introduced by a friend at a New Year's Eve party in 1967. Less than one year later, the two married and settled into a home in southwest Atlanta.
In 1986, she told the Atlanta Journal that she never imagined her husband would one day be heading to Washington, D.C.
"When I married John, my best friend said, `You are so dumb going into this marriage that you don't even know how much money he earns,'" Lewis told the paper. "The U.S. Congress? No, capital N-O, exclamation point, so forth and so forth."
The AJC's Daniel Malloy points to a poignant paragraph from Lewis' memoir "Walking With the Wind" about the role his wife played in convincing him to run an unsuccessful congressional bid in the late 1970s.
"She had always been very involved in politics, much more than I. She had been a delegate (supporting Shirley Chisholm) to the Democratic National Convention in '72, and she was constantly active in a variety of local circles and organizations. She was outgoing, involved, intelligent and great in front of an audience - she could make a speech. She also knew how to organize, how to chair a meeting, the nitty-gritty stuff. When she finally said, 'Let's do it. Let's go for it,' that was enough. We were in," Lewis wrote.
Lewis later directed Atlanta University's Institute for International Affairs and Development and served as the manager of external affairs after the school merged with Clark College, becoming Clark Atlanta University.
Information regarding funeral arrangements will be released as they become available, a spokeswoman said in a statement. As condolences come in, we'll add them after the jump.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and HRC's Atlanta Steering Committee said in a statement:
"The Lewis family has done so much to advance the basic civil rights for all Americans. When Congressman Lewis argued passionately against the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, stating that committed gay and lesbian couples simply want to "spend their lives with the one they love," he knew from his life with Lillian just how essential the bond of marriage can be.
"The entire HRC family mourns the loss of this incredible and brave woman, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Congressman and his family at this time."
Mayor Kasim Reed says in a statement:
On behalf of the people of the City of Atlanta, I extend my deepest condolences to the Lewis and Miles families on the passing of Lillian Miles Lewis. Mrs. Lewis was active in social justice movements across the country and was an articulate ambassador on behalf of her adopted home city of Atlanta. She was a strong and steadfast supporter of her husband, whom she married in 1968 at Ebenezer Baptist Church. She will be missed.
Mo gibs muh 'dat.
One step forward, two steps back.
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