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Letter to Atlanta: Congressman John Lewis Remembers Jesse Hill Jr. as a Friend and Supporter

The 86 year-old father, grand-father, businessman, and civil rights icon, Jesse Hill Jr., passed away on Monday, December 17th with his family at his side.

Editor's Note: In response to Monday's news of Jesse Hill Jr. passing, Congressman John Lewis wrote this letter to Cascade Patch readers remembering his long-time friend and supporter. Other members of the community shared their thoughts as well, in the original article.

“I first met Jesse Hill Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s. He was a tireless fighter for civil and human rights. He conducted voter registration efforts in Atlanta long before the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. He was a strong supporter of the Atlanta student movement, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and he assisted Mrs. Coretta Scott King in helping to build the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. He was also a leader in getting African American support behind the development of MARTA.

“During the past 50 years, very little progress has been made in Atlanta without the involvement of Jesse Hill. He was a very successful business man, and he used his position as the CEO of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company to get things done, not just to position himself, but to advance the causes of equality, social justice, and humane business practice for all of the people of the city. He envisioned Atlanta as a cornerstone in the South of a transformed and renewed America. And he did more than dream, but he worked to make that vision a reality.

“Jesse Hill was a man of unbelievable energy. He did not like drawn out meetings. He was in one place one moment and somewhere else the next. He was a wonderful friend to me. He would always call me early in the morning, and sometimes he would just say, “John, I’m thinking about you.”

“Jesse Hill helped Atlanta become what it is today. He helped support my run for Congress in 1986. As a matter of fact, he came to me when it looked like everyone else wanted to go another way, and threw his support behind me. He is one of the major reasons that I became a Congressman in 1986. Many people in this city, including Maynard Jackson, Andy Young, Jimmy Carter and me are deeply indebted to Jesse Hill. We have lost one of the strongest pillars in this city." - Rep. John Lewis

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