Civil Rights leader honored in Peoria

By Beau Ebenezer

April 11, 2014 Updated Apr 11, 2014 at 11:46 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Local residents took the time to appreciate their freedom and equality Friday afternoon.

They honored the last living American Civil Rights leader at a special ceremony.

It was an emotional day for dozens of Peoria residents as they welcomed civil rights hero, Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

"I can remember growing up down in Southern Illinois," said Peoria resident, Helen King. "We had to go through back doors and things like that. You see an icon like Congressman Lewis, who worked hard and fought hard for us to have these privileges. I am his favorite fan."

The congressman was honored at the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Lewis was a close friend and advisor to Martin Luther King Junior.

He led the first student sit-ins and earliest freedom rides.

But even as far as we've come today, he said there is still more work to be done.

"We need to come together in the congress and pass a comprehensive immigration reform," said Lewis. "It doesn't make sense to have 12 million people or more living in the shadows. It is not right, it is not fair, and it is not just."

U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos is proud of the nation's strides.

But she agrees we still have a long way to go.

"Just this week I went over to the White House and saw the President sign an executive order that looks at federal contractors to make sure they are paying women the same amount as men for the same work," said Bustos. "50 years after the Civil Rights Act we are still talking about that."

In the coming years, lawmakers said Lewis's work will serve as a reminder of just how equal we are.

Also remembered at the ceremony was Pekin native and former Senate Minority Leader, Everett Dirksen.

Dirksen played a pivotal role in passing the U.S. Civil Rights Act.