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John Lewis to attend Nelson Mandela's memorial services

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U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga) is among 23 American lawmakers who left Washington this morning for Tuesday services in Johannesburg, to honor former South African president Nelson Mandela.

Lewis, a civil rights icon, is one of the 13 original "Freedom Riders," the only surviving speaker from the March on Washington event when Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, and the only surviving "Big Six" leader of the Civil Rights Movement.

"I remember as a student, hearing and reading about [Mandela] long before the worldwide Free Mandela movement emerged," said the Georgia congressman in a statement. "We identified with him. We identified with the struggle in South Africa, the Sharpville massacre, and were intimately aware of all the major events that occurred in the struggle against apartheid."

Lewis said that upon meeting Mandela in 1990 the South African leader told him that Lewis inspired him.

"I said, 'No, Mr. Mandela, you inspired us.' …I felt unworthy really to be standing at his side. I knew I was in the presence of greatness," said Lewis.

Mandela, a Nobel Prize-winning human rights leader, died on Thursday, Dec. 5 at the age of 95.

Lewis, now 73, stayed active in human rights-related causes. Most recently, in 2003 he participated in protests against the Iraq invasion, he was arrested in 2006 and 2009 while protesting the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and he was arrested again in 2013 when advocating for immigration reform and legalization of undocumented immigrants.

The congressional delegation is led by Rep. Aaron Shock (R-Ill.) and includes Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and one senator, Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

The CBC aided Mandela by organizing anti-apartheid protests in U.S. and pushing for economic sanctions against the South African regime.

Lewis represents Georgia's fifth congressional district.

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