Right now, America needs heroes. And we have one for the ages in John Lewis.

His life of sacrifice in the name of the larger principles of freedom and equality and his career of service to his country are emblems of the better America we hope to be and the better America we can become.

In remembering him, we should remember that the struggle for equality is an enduring human struggle, that it will not come cheaply nor easily, that the path can be dangerous and the pain very real, and that it will almost certainly never be over.

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We can remember too, though, that it can be rewarded — that things can get better — and that Lewis’ sacrifice, along with those of the Freedom Riders and so many advocates for reform, bequeathed to us a better nation, where we more fully, if still imperfectly, embrace the individual dignity of each American and extend in law the protection of their basic human rights.

Lewis, who died at 80 Friday, had his skull cracked with a billy club as a young man to help bring us to this place where we are. And even as violence was done upon him, he rejected violence in return. The undeniable moral authority that he carried on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965 was the authority that finally mattered.

In considering his legacy, we must also consider the work that remains. Poverty, imprisonment and other legacies of slavery and codified racism still track our country. Lewis supported the marches in opposition of police violence against Black Americans and considered them an extension of his work as a young man.

We also hope, as we memorialize his life and all he did as a protester, organizer and congressman, that we don’t fail to recognize the truth that his work mattered because it made a real difference in our country and in improving the lives of Black Americans. The America that John Lewis died in is not the same America he was born into as the child of sharecroppers. It is not the same America that disenfranchised Black Americans as a matter of law denied them basic human rights.

It is an America that took his search for justice and equality seriously, that cared his body was beaten and his skull fractured, that rejected the forces of inequality, segregation and racism.

That better America is an America we must work toward every day. The struggle is renewed over and over in each of us as individuals and in all of us as a society.

John Lewis has died. But in a good and ever better America, John Lewis will live forever.

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