Obama Delivers Eulogy for Civil Rights Icon

Former President Barack Obama delivered a moving eulogy honoring legendary civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, who passed away on Friday (July 17) of pancreatic cancer at 80 years old. 

The final celebration of life service was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church Horizon Sanctuary for a private ceremony in Atlanta, GA on Thursday (July 30).

“It is a great honor to be back at Ebenezer Baptist Church, at the pulpit of its greatest pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to pay my respects to perhaps his finest disciple,” Obama said.

Obama said he owes “a great debt” to Lewis and his “forceful vision of freedom.”

In a short essay published today, Lewis called on the next generation to continue to fight for change in a New York Times op-ed.

“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. 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.”

Following the news of Lewis’ death, Obama posted a tribute on Medium titled “My Statement on the Passing of Rep. John Lewis.” 

RELATED: President Barack Obama Remembers John Lewis: ‘He Was One Of My Heroes’

“I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders,” he wrote.

RELATED: New Doc ‘John Lewis: Good Trouble’ Celebrates The Living Icon And His Passion For Social Justice

“When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made. And through all those years, he never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement to me and Michelle and our family. We will miss him dearly.”

Lewis, who was often called the ‘conscience’ of Congress, was a tireless activist for civil rights for over six decades, first joining Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the fight for voting rights when he was just 18. On February 15, 2011, Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. 

Watch the full eulogy below:

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