Current and former U.S. politicians gathered in Atlanta, Georgia on Thursday, joining with friends and family for the funeral service of Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who passed away on July 17 after a battle with pancreatic cancer at 80-years-old.
Lewis served as the congressman for Georgia’s 5th Congressional district for more than 30 years, from 1987 until the day he passed away. Prior to that, Lewis was one of five speakers at the Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington and at 23 was the youngest speaker at the event and the last surviving speaker.
Lewis was memorialized at his funeral for his contributions to the Civil Rights era fights. In his eulogy to Lewis, former President Barack Obama described Lewis as as King’s “finest disciple.”
Obama also remembered Lewis was one of the first “freedom riders” recalling the civil rights protest tactic of riding interstate buses into the segregated parts of the U.S. in the south. Obama went on note other efforts by Lewis throughout the civil rights era, facing down violence throughout their protests.
“He as much as anyone in our history, brought our country a little bit closer to its 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 its 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.”
As Obama continued his remarks, he turned his attention to current civil unrest in recent months and said the U.S. still has not reached a place of fairness. Obama appeared to reference unrest in Portland, Oregon and criticized federal officers using “tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.”
Demonstrations in Portland have included rioting with people having thrown fireworks and incendiary devices at a federal courthouse in the city.
Obama went on to say even while there are no longer Jim Crow era restrictions on polling places designed to explicitly suppress black voters, he decried closures to polling locations and opposition to mail-in voting; a voting method President Donald Trump has suggested will lead to “fraudulent” results. Obama increasingly pivoted his eulogy of Lewis towards calls to get out the vote during the November election.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also delivered remarks at Lewis’ funeral and Former President Barack Obama was scheduled to deliver Lewis’ eulogy.
In his remarks, the Republican Bush said “John and I had our disagreements, of course. But in the America John Lewis fought for and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.”
“We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis and his abiding faith in the power of God, in the power of democracy and in the power of love to lift us all to a higher ground. The story that began in Troy isn’t ending here today, nor is the work,” Bush continued.
Clinton described Lewis as “a walking rebuke” of people willing to give up on their civil rights battles, and remembered Lewis by his famous phrase, calling on people to “get in good trouble.”
“He got into a lot of good trouble along the way, but let’s not forget he also developed an absolutely uncanny ability to heal troubled waters,” Clinton said. “When he could have been angry and determined to cancel his adversaries, he tried to get converts instead. He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist.”
Former President Jimmy Carter was not able to attend Lewis’ funeral but sent a letter of his prepared remarks, which Ebenezer Baptist Church Senior Pastor Raphael Warnock read to the funeral service.
“We are proud to be among those whose lives he has touched,” Warnock read from Carter’s statement said. “…His enormous contributions will continue to be an inspiration for generations to come.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also spoke at Lewis’ funeral.
Pelosi said Lewis embodied the Sanskrit word Satyagraha. Pelosi explained that Satyagraha “means non-violence, and it means insistence on the truth, and that is what John Lewis was all about.”