LIVE BLOG: John Lewis Funeral
Congressman John Lewis, who was one of the principal figures in the Civil Rights Movement and led the charge for voting rights as well as human rights, will be laid to rest at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Thursday (July 30).
Services for Lewis begin at 11 a.m. Lewis will be eulogized by former president Barack Obama.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, the service will not be open to the public, but Lewis family is encouraging people to organize “John Lewis Virtual Love” events at home during the service.
Internment will be at Atlanta’s South-View Cemetery.
Watch a live stream of Rep. John Lewis funeral here.
Funeral Cermony Ends As ‘Happy’ Plays
As Lewis’ casket is carried out of Ebenezer Baptist by a U.S. military honor guard, a video montage is played featureing photos from his life while Pharell Williams’ 2014 chartbuster “Happy” plays. It is said to be Lewis’ favorite song.
Meanwhile, the congressman is being prepared for his final journey and burial at South-View Cemetery in Atlanta.
The Torch Has Passed To New Generation, Obama Says
In his parting statement, Obama said that he was “proud that John Lewis was a friend of mine,” caling him one of his heroes and an inspiration. He said that his final meeting with him was during a public forum on Zoom in a virtual town hall where they met with other activists.
He said when they spoke later, “he could not have been prouder to. see this new generation standing up for freedom and equality.”
“I told him, all thos young people, John, every race, every religion, every background and gender and sexual orientation, those are your children, they learned from your example.”
Soon after he left the pulpit, he was followed by a song from gospel singers Marvin and BeBe Winans.
Obama Criticizes Voter Suppression
Calling out voter suppression efforts, Obama said Lewis fought against the very notion.
“He knew that the fate of this democracy depends on how we use it,” the former president said. “He said as long as he had a breath in his body, he said he would do all that he could to preserve this democracy.”
Later he called the Voting Rights Act one of the “crowning achievements” of American democracy, noting that both president George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush both signed its renewal and that President Clinton signed a law to make it easier to vote.
But he also criticized rolling back of some of the provisions of the law in 2013 by the Supreme Court. New legislation has been introduced to bring back those provisions. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina has proposed renaming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
Obama Remembers What Lewis Stood For
Recounting the story of “Bloody Sunday” Obama recounts the violence Lewis endured in March 1965, despite which he led marchers from Selma to Montgomery and eventually playing a pivotal role in the success of the Voting Rights Act.
“What a revolutionary notion that any of us, ordinary people, a young kid from Troy can stand up to the powers and principalities and say this isn’t right, this isn’t just, we can do better…America was built by people like him.”
He said that once America achieved its principles of equality and justice Lewis would be a “founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.”
Obama Begins Eulogy For His Friend
Jennifer Holliday returned to the pulpit to give an emotional rendition of the gospel classic “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” a tradition at African American funerals. She is immediately followed by former president Barack Obama, the third president to speak today.
He begins his eulogy by quoting the Bible, James 1:3: “The testing of your faith produces perserverance.”
He said that he, like so many others owe a “great debt” to Lewis. Remembering him a Freedom Rider, SNCC founder, March on Washington speaker and congressman said that he not only embraced his responsibilities toward the struggle, but “made it his life’s work.”
Civil Rights movement hero Rev. James Lawson gives his own oration for Lewis in which he called out “plantation capitalism” and recited Langston Hughes when relating to the congressman.
He is followed by jazz singer and songwriter Kathleen Bertrand performing Mahalia Jackson’s “If I Can Help Somebody.”
Xernona Clayton, Founter of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, which celebrates Black accomplishment, reflects on her relationship with Lewis, dating decades back, and also with his wife Lillian. She reflected on how the couple met and how their relationship progressed.
She is followed by former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell, who gave a salutation, and Jamila Thompson, Lewis’ Deputy Chief of Staff.
At the same time, throngs of people are still gathered outside the church to watch the ceremony.
Praise from Presidents
Former president George W. Bush takes to the pulpit remarking about Lewis’ days as a child pretending to preach sermons to chickens in the small farm he grew up on in Troy, Ala., in preparation for a career as a minister.
But rather than becoming a preacher, his life diverted to civil rights as his divine calling and praised his heroism as both a civil rights activist and as a congressman.
“He took up the work of the Lord through all his days,” said Bush.
Afterward, former president Bill Clinton followed Bush.
Clinton remembered Lewis’ humanity and strengths through the violence he faced on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, to losing the leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to Stokely Carmichael to his further work in civil rights.
“He was here on a mission that was bigger than personal ambition,” he said. “We honor him because in Selma on a third attempt, John and his comrades showed that you have to march into the wind as well as with it.”
Both Clinton and Bush were followed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who remembered her friendship with Lewis noting that he “always talked about truth marching on.”
A Prayer and a Song
Rev. Berniece King, daughter of Rev. Martin Luther King offered the invocation for the ceremony, contining to encourage Lewis’ mantra of getting into “good trouble” and calling the late congressman a “non-violent” warrior.
Afterward, Tony award-winning singer Jennifer Holliday of the Broadway hit musical “Dreamgirls” took to the sancturary pulpit to sing a rendition of the 1991 gospel music hit “Only What You Do For Christ Will Last” by Commissioned.
Funeral Procession Begins
500 churches joined in unison to ring their bells for 80 seconds in remembrance of Rep. John Lewis as the funeral procession got underway. One second for each year of his life.
More dignitaries including former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have arrived at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Meanwhile, Senior Pastor Rev. Raphael Warnock has begun the services with a “Call To Celebration.”
He noted that Ebenezer was also the church home of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mourners Gather Inside and Outside of Church
As the ceremony draws near, people are gathering outside of Ebenezer Baptist Church near a jumbotron screen to watch it the livestream. The funeral is private and closed to the public, but people are being allowed to pay their respects in an area set up espectially for them.
“He was so special to so many of us,” mourner Chip Joyner told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The movement for equality that we celebrate today, he started. I could not let the day go by without paying my last respects.”
Meanwhile, dignitaries have begun to arrive. Ambassador Andrew Young, Rep. Al Green and former Georgia State Senator Stacey Abrams have all been seated in the pews.
A Final Message
With the sunset of his life approaching, Rep. John Lewis penned an op-ed for The New York Times to be published upon his death. The essay, titled: “Together, You Can Redeem The Soul of Our Nation,” the late congressman urged the generations that followed his to take up the mantle of human rights and carry the torch forward.
He writes: Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society.
Presidents To Pay Respects
Former President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver the eulogy for Rep. John Lewis at his funeral today. During his presidency, Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
In addition, former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are also scheduled to attend the ceremony, according to CNN.
Photo Credit: Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images