Three former presidents came together to honor Congressman John Lewis at his Exequies in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday, completing a week of memorial services for the longtime lawmaker and civil rights icon.
Former President Barack Obama delivered a rousing eulogy celebrating Lewis’ life. “He, as much as anyone in our history, brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals,” Mr. Obama said.
He addressed the issue that defined Lewis’ legacy, calling on Congress to act on voting rights.
“Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law he was willing to depart for,” Mr. Obama said, to an ovation. He added, “John wouldn’t want us to stop there. Once we pass it, we should keep marching to make it even better,” listing new provisions like automatic registration and making Election Day a national holiday.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, too, paid homage to Lewis, who depart earlier this month at age 80.
Mr. Bush, the first among the living presidents to pay homage to Lewis, said Americans live in a country that is better today because of the late congressman. “John Lewis always looked outward, not inward. He always thought of others. He always believed in preaching the gospel, in word and in deed, insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope,” Mr. Bush said. “John Lewis believed in the Lord. He believed in humanity, and he believed in America.”
Mr. Clinton noted that Lewis “left us with marching orders” in his op-ed in the New York Times, published on the day. In the piece, Lewis urged Americans to continue to get into “good trouble.” The former president suggested that Americans honor this request: “Salute, suit up, and march on.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reflected on Lewis’ 33 years in Congress, during which he represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, and the lessons he taught the legislative body. “When he spoke, people listened. When he led, people followed. We loved him very much,” Pelosi said. “We wave goodbye to this person, our leader, our friend.”
The follows nearly a week of tributes including a memorial service in Troy, Alabama, on Saturday, and a final trip across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on Sunday — the same bridge where he was beaten by Alabama state troopers cop during the march to Montgomery on March 7, 1965, which became known as “Sunday.” Lewis’ casket then traveled to Washington, D.C., where he was commemorated at a service at the U.S. Capitol and was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.
Lewis was the youngest person to speak at the 1963 March on Washington, and was a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. He spoke in June to CBS News about his activism in the 1960s. “Yes, I was beaten, left unconscious. But I never became bitter or hostile, never gave up.
I believe that somehow and some way if it becomes necessary to use our bodies to help redeem the soul of a nation, then we must do it,” Lewis said.
This Article Was Originally Published On cbsnews.com (30 July 2020)