MOURNERS URGED TO CONTINUE JOHN LEWIS’ FIGHT FOR EQUALITY
ATLANTA — Hailed as a “founding father” of a fairer, better United States, John Lewis was eulogized Thursday by three former presidents and others who urged Americans to continue the work of the civil rights icon in fighting injustice during a moment of racial reckoning.
The longtime member of Congress even issued his own call to action — in an essay written in his final days that he asked be published in The New York Times on the day of his funeral. In it, he challenged the next generation to lay “down the heavy burdens of hate at last.”
After nearly a week of observances that took Lewis’ body from his birthplace in Alabama to the nation’s capital to his final resting place in Atlanta, mourners in face masks to guard against the coronavirus spread out across pews Thursday at the city’s landmark Ebenezer Baptist Church, once pastored by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Former President Barack Obama called Lewis “a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance” during a fiery eulogy that was both deeply personal and political. The nation’s first Black president connected Lewis’ legacy to the ongoing fight against those who are “doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting.”
Former President George W. Bush said Lewis, who died July 17 at 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 sent written condolences, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recalled how the sky was filled with ribbons of color in Washington earlier this week while Lewis’ body was lying in state at the U.S. Capitol.
“There was this double rainbow over the casket,” she said. “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, led by King. He was best known for leading protesters in the “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where he was beaten by Alabama state troopers.
Outside the church, with temperatures in the upper 80s, hundreds gathered to watch the service on a large screen; some sang the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Pharrell Williams’ joyous tune “Happy” played as a closing song while a military honor guard loaded Lewis’ flag-draped coffin into a hearse; many congregation members clapped along.
The Honor Guard carries the body of Rep. John Lewis after the funeral service Thursday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
LEFT: Mourners gather outside Ebenezer Baptist Church during the funeral for Rep. John Lewis.
ABOVE: Family members place flowers on Rep. John Lewis’ casket at Atlanta’s South-View Cemetery on Thursday.