(ABC News) – Georgia Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis has endorsed former vice president Joe Biden, calling the Democratic front-runner a “a friend, a man of courage, a man of conscience,” and promising to do whatever he can to support his candidacy.
“It is my belief that we need Joe Biden now, more than ever before,” Lewis said on a call with reporters Monday evening.
“He will be a great president. He will lead our country to a great place. He would inspire another next generation to stand up, speak up and speak out. To be brave, to be bold, and that’s why I am committed to supporting him,” Lewis said, calling Biden a “dear friend.”
One of the nation’s most influential voices on civil rights, Lewis was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and walked alongside the civil rights leader in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, when he was badly beaten by police while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
He suffered a fractured skull in the attack.
“I know hatred when I see it. I have felt it. I’ve stared down the deepest and darkest forces in this nation. Over the past four years, I’ve seen the same kind of evil rear its head again,” Lewis says in a video released by the campaign accompanying his endorsement, as images of the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia flash across the screen.
“You judge the character of a man by how he chooses to respond to that moral obligation. Vice President Joe Biden has never stopped speaking up for his fellow man,” Lewis says in the video, adding that he believes Biden has “no delusion about this nation’s past.”
Biden’s strength with African-American voters, and backing from a slew of prominent black lawmakers, has helped propel him to a large lead in the delegate race over his lone rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Lewis is the 38th member of the Congressional Black Caucus to endorse Biden’s presidential bid.
Lewis, who is in the midst of a fight with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, also said “it would be good” for Biden to have a woman of color as his running mate, advocating for a vice presidential candidate who looks like “the rest of America.”
“I think Vice President Biden should look around. It would be good to have a woman of color. It would be good to have a woman. It would be good to have a woman who looks like the rest of America,” Lewis said.
Biden pledged at the most recent Democratic debate to select a woman as his vice presidential running mate, and said last week he will formally announce a committee to begin the vetting process for potential candidates later this month.
Addressing Biden’s relative lack of support among younger African-Americans, Lewis urged those same young voters to turn out, referencing his own past with the civil rights movement and arguing that people died for the right to vote, calling it “the most powerful non-violent instrument or tool that we have in a democratic society.”
“My message would be very simple. Look around, we have a choice, you must decide,” Lewis said. “Get out there and vote, like we’ve never, ever, voted before.”
Lewis, who was first elected to Congress in 1986 and is in the middle of his 18th term, also stressed the importance of voting, even amidst the global coronavirus pandemic that has largely put traditional campaigning on hold.
“I’m worried about whether we’re going to be able to have a free and clean election. I just hope that in spite of whatever is going on now, that people will not be afraid to come out and vote, we have to vote,” Lewis said Monday when asked about his concerns over campaigning amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“If we fail to vote, we don’t count,” he added.
Lewis has been a fiercely vocal critic of President Trump, participating in a protest march over the administration’s immigration policies, and labeling Trump a “racist” in a 2018 interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.”