John Lewis, Towering Civil Rights Icon, Memorialized At Atlanta Funeral
The funeral for Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon who was widely revered by his peers as "the conscious of the Congress," will be held in Atlanta on Thursday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. served as co-pastor.
Days of ceremonies have honored the longtime congressman in Georgia, his home state Alabama and Washington, D.C. where he represented Atlanta and some of its suburbs for more than 30 years.
He died at the age of 80 on July 17, after battling pancreatic cancer.
Three former presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — are expected to speak at his service, which is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET.
Lewis helped organize the 1963 March on Washington and was the last surviving speaker from the event.
On the day of his funeral, The New York Times published an opinion piece penned by the late Congressman shortly before his death.
Lewis said he was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and hopeful about the next chapter for America.
"Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble," Lewis wrote. "Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it."
"That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day," he added. "I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on."
The visit in June to the renamed plaza in Washington, D.C., would be his final public appearance.
On Wednesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms set aside their ongoing legal battle over requiring residents to wear facial coverings to pay tribute to Lewis at the Georgia State Capitol Rotunda.
"In our country's most trying moments, Congressman Lewis taught us the lesson of joyful, steadfast commitment to ideals bigger than one man or one movement," Kemp said, as Georgia Public Broadcasting reported. "As we mourn his passing, we should all recommit ourselves to the principles he fought for: our country's core foundation in liberty, freedom, and justice for all."
The Atlanta mayor remembered Lewis as always being available to his constituents.
"Although an Alabama legend, an Atlanta icon and an American hero, Congressman Lewis took time to let me know — to let all of us know — that we matter to him," Bottoms said, according to GPB.
Lewis also lay in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, the first Black lawmaker to receive that honor. At a ceremony there on Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her longtime colleague was respected by members on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress.
"We knew he always worked on the side of angels, and now we know that he is with them," Pelosi said.
On Sunday, Lewis made one final trip across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala, where law enforcement attacked protesters in 1965 as they attempted to cross the bridge. That day has become known as Bloody Sunday.
Lewis was badly beaten there in 1965, but on Sunday, he was saluted by Alabama state troopers as his casket made its way across the bridge, led by a trail of red rose petals.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.