ATLANTA — Hailed as a “founding father” of a more powerful, greater United States, John Lewis had been eulogized Thursday by three former presidents and other people that encouraged Americans to continue the job of their civil rights icon at combating injustice in an instant of racial reckoning.
The longtime member of Congress issued his own call to action — in an article written in his last days he requested be printed from The New York Times on the day of his funeral. Inside, he contested another generation to put “down the heavy burdens of hate at last.”
After almost a week of observances that took Lewis’ body out of his birthplace from Alabama into the nation’s funds to his final resting spot in Atlanta, mourners in face masks to shield from the coronavirus distribute over pews Thursday in the city’s landmark Ebenezer Baptist Church, after pastored by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Former President Barack Obama known as Lewis “a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance” through a fiery eulogy which has been deeply personal and political. The nation’s first Black president joined Lewis’ heritage to the continuing fight against people who are “doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting.” His words came as the nation was roiled by months of protests demanding a reckoning with institutionalized racism — and hours following President Donald Trump proposed delaying the November election, something that he doesn’t possess the ability to do.
“He as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals,” Obama said. “And some day when we do finish that long journey towards freedom, when we do form a more perfect union, whether it’s years from now or decades or even if it takes another two centuries, John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.”
Former President George W. Bush said Lewis, who died July 17 in the age of 80, preached the Gospel and lived its ideals, “insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope.”
Former President Jimmy Carter delivered composed condolences, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remembered the way the sky was full of ribbons of color in Washington earlier this week while Lewis’ body was lying in state in the U.S. Capitol.
“There was this double rainbow over the casket,” she explained. “He was telling us, ‘I’m home in heaven, I’m home in heaven.’ We always knew he worked on the side of angels, and now he is with them.”
Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, headed by King. He was famous for top protesters at the “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where he had been defeated by Alabama state troopers.
Throughout the ceremony, the arc of Lewis’ activism was again attached to King, whose sermons Lewis found while scanning the radio dial up as a 15-year old boy growing up in then-segregated Alabama.
King continued to inspire Lewis’ civil rights work to get another 65 years since he fought segregation through marches, “Freedom Rides” throughout the South, and afterwards during his lengthy tenure in the U.S. Congress.
“Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America,” Lewis said of his run-ins together with law. The expression was repeated many times a funeral.
“We will continue to get into good trouble as long as you grant us the breath to do so,” among King’s brothers, the Rev. Bernice King, stated she led the congregation in prayer. She afterwards paused and put her hands beneath Lewis’ flag-draped casket in the front of the church.
Ebenezer’s senior leader, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, known as Lewis “a true American patriot who risked his life for the hope and promise of democracy.”
Beyond the church, with temperatures at the top 80therefore, hundreds gathered to watch the ceremony on a massive screen; a few sang the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Pharrell Williams’ joyous song “Happy” played a final song as a military honor guard loaded Lewis’ flag-draped coffin to a hearse; lots of members clapped along.
The service ended times of remembrance for Lewis, who invested over three years in Congress representing almost all of his adopted home of Atlanta. Along with this U.S. Capitol, his body lay in the Georgia and Alabama Capitol buildings, and events were held at the Alabama cities of Troy, Lewis’ hometown, and Selma.
To the numerous tributes Thursday, Lewis was able to include his very own words. His article from The New York Times remembered the teachings of King:
“He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice,” Lewis composed. “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.”
“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,” he wrote. “Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”
Former President Bill Clinton referenced the article during his remarks: “It is so fitting on the day of his service, he leaves us his marching orders: Keep moving.”
Associated Press writers Ben Nadler at Atlanta and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, led.
Jeff Martin, The Associated Press
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