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John Lewis Funeral Held in Atlanta

Three presidents mourn life of civil rights hero

7/30/2020, 12:09 p.m.
John Lewis was mourned, revered and celebrated as an American hero on Thursday at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Mourners stand outside Ebenezer Baptist Church during the funeral for Rep. John Lewis, Thursday, July 30 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

“Later I saw him on many occasions in Nashville while I was in school between 1958 and ’61,” Lewis said. “In a sense, he was my leader.”

King was “the person who, more than any other, continued to influence my life, who made me who I was,” Lewis wrote in his 1998 autobiography, “Walking with the Wind.”

By the summer of 1963, Lewis was addressing thousands of people during the March on Washington, where King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. He spoke then about Black people beaten by police and jailed — themes that resonate vividly in today’s times.

“My friends, let us not forget that we are involved in a serious social revolution,” Lewis told the huge crowd on the Washington Mall.

“To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we have long said that we cannot be patient,” he added. “We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again.”

In 1965, Lewis was beaten by Alabama state troopers in the city of Selma in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

Last Sunday, his casket was carried across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The wagon rolled over a carpet of rose petals on the bridge that spans the Alabama River. On the south side of the bridge, where Lewis was attacked by the law officers, family members placed red roses that the carriage rolled over, marking the spot where Lewis spilled his blood and suffered a head injury.

Lewis was later awarded the Medal of Freedom by the nation’s first Black president in 2011.

He spent more than three decades in Congress, and his district included most of Atlanta.

Shortly before he died, Lewis wrote an essay for The New York Times and asked that it be published on the day of his funeral. In the piece published Thursday, Lewis recalled the teachings of King:

“He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice,” Lewis wrote. “He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out.”

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe,” Lewis added. “In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

Former President Bill Clinton referenced the essay during his remarks Thursday: “It is so fitting on the day of his service, he leaves us his marching orders: Keep moving.”