WASHINGTON. — Three former presidents honoured Congressman John Lewis at his funeral in Atlanta, Georgia, yesterday, completing a week of memorial services for the longtime lawmaker and civil rights icon.
Former President Barack Obama delivered the eulogy for Lewis, who died earlier this month at age 80. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush also spoke, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Bush, the first among the living presidents to pay homage to Lewis, said Americans live in a country that is better today because of the late congressman.
“John Lewis always looked outward, not inward. He always thought of others. He always believed in preaching the gospel, in word and in deed, insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope,” Bush said. “John Lewis believed in the Lord. He believed in humanity, and he believed in America.”
Clinton noted that Lewis “left us with marching orders” in his op-ed in the New York Times, published on the day of his funeral. In the piece, Lewis urged Americans to continue to get into “good trouble.” The former president suggested that Americans honour this request: “Salute, suit up, and march on.”
A memorial service in Troy, Alabama, on Saturday celebrated Lewis’ legacy, before he then made his final trip across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on Sunday, the same bridge where he was beaten by Alabama state troopers police during the march to Montgomery on March 7, 1965, which became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Lewis’ casket then travelled to Washington, DC, where he was commemorated at a service at the US Capitol and was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.
Lewis was the youngest person to speak at the 1963 March on Washington, and was a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. He spoke in June to CBS News about his activism in the 1960s.
“Yes, I was beaten, left bloody and unconscious. But I never became bitter or hostile, never gave up. I believe that somehow and some way if it becomes necessary to use our bodies to help redeem the soul of a nation, then we must do it,” Lewis said.
Pelosi reflected on Lewis’ 33 years in Congress, during which he represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, and the lessons the civil rights icon left with the legislative body.
“When he spoke, people listened. When he led, people followed. We loved him very much,” Pelosi said. “We wave goodbye to this person, our leader, our friend.”
The California Democrat said 50 members of Congress were in attendance to honour Lewis’ life, and she asked those lawmakers stand.
“We come with a flag flown over the Capitol the night that John passed,” Pelosi said, pausing as she began to choke up. “When this flag flew there, it said goodbye, it waved goodbye to John, our friend, our mentor, our colleague, this beautiful man that we all had the privilege of serving with in the Congress of the United States.”
Pelosi said the congressman “wanted us to see the civil rights movement and the rest through his eyes”. “He told us so many stories, he taught us so much and he took us to Selma,” she said, adding that Lewis “insisted on the truth” wherever he went, including in Congress. — CBS News.