President Barack Obama remembered former Ohio Rep. Louis Stokes, who died Tuesday, as a passionate voice for the less fortunate.
Stokes, the first black person from Ohio elected to Congress, died at 90 after battling brain and lung cancer.
“Growing up in Depression-era Cleveland with his mother and brother Carl, Lou triumphed over hardship to become a passionate voice for those less fortunate. He fought to expand access to quality healthcare in struggling communities and worked tirelessly on behalf of hardworking Ohioans,” Obama said in a statement Wednesday. “Lou leaves behind an indelible legacy in the countless generations of young leaders that he inspired, and he will be sorely missed.”
Ohio’s governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich called Stokes “a giant, who led by his conviction.”
“He was a giant, who led by his conviction as much as he did by his personal grace. I am proud to have served in Congress with him,” Kasich said in a statement to CNN. “Cleveland, Ohio and America is stronger for his service and I hope reflecting on that can inspire future leaders at a time when we need to come together more as a country. My family’s thoughts and prayers go out to his at this difficult time.”
Stokes retired from Congress in 2012 after serving 15 terms. His death marks the second loss of a prominent civil rights activist in less than a week.
Civil Rights icon Rep. John Lewis tweeted Wednesday that he was sorry to learn of Stokes’ death.
“He was a gifted public servant who brought dignity to the office and contributed to the public good of the entire nation,” he said.
The Cleveland native worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. to get the Voters Rights Act of 1965 passed and was first elected in 1968, the same year former NAACP chairman Julian Bond became the first African American to be nominated as a major-party candidate for Vice President of the United States.
Bond, who died Saturday, eventually ran for Congress losing a bitter race to Lewis.
Lewis tweeted that Bond was one of his “dearest and closest friends.”
“We went through a difficult period during our campaign for Congress in 1986, but many years ago we emerged even closer,” he tweeted. “Julian was so smart, so gifted, and so talented. He was deeply committed to making our country a better country.”
The Georgia congressman re-tweeted a photo of himself and Bond from the 1970s registering voters. Through their activism, both men were influential advocates for the Voters Rights Act of 1965, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Last week, CNN reported that Obama urged lawmakers to re-establish elements of the Voting Rights Act.
“Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act. Our state leaders and legislatures must make it easier – not harder – for more Americans to have their voices heard,” he wrote to the New York Time magazine in a letter to the editor. “Above all, we must exercise our right as citizens to vote, for the truth is that too often we disenfranchise ourselves.”