Obama eulogizes John Lewis as a man of ‘pure joy’ and ‘perseverance’
President Barack Obama paid tribute to Rep. John Lewis as a man of conviction and courage
Former President Barack Obama eulogized the late Rep. John Lewis as a man of “pure joy” and whose “perseverance” was proven on many occasions.
Obama spoke before a sea of mourners and Lewis’ flag-draped coffin on Thursday. The 44th president said it was a “great honor” to be back at Ebenezer Baptist Church and in the pulpit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who once preached there.
Obama described Lewis as King’s finest disciple.
“I told him this is your day too,” Obama recalled telling Lewis during his inauguration.
Obama went on to narrate the many milestones that took place in the life of Lewis, especially in his youth. He remembered him as “full of purpose” and that God “put perseverance in him.” He particularly highlighted the brutal beating Lewis took on Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama.
The actions of that day helped to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because a “young kid” from Troy, Alabama stood up to power and the authorities.
“When John woke up and checked himself out of the hospital, he would make sure the world saw a movement that was, in the words of Scripture, hard-pressed on every side—but not crushed,” he said.
Obama decreed that Lewis will long be remembered for changing the arc of history.
“America was built by John Lewises,” Obama said.
“He as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideas. And someday when we do finish that long journey toward freedom, whether it’s 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.”
Obama also touched upon how the fight for democracy that Lewis waged all his life is still an urgent one. He cited challenges to voting, police brutality and the need for protest. He urged people to be “more like John” and get into “good trouble.”
Obama said Lewis needed to be honored by revitalizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“If politicians want to honor John,” Obama said, “there’s a better way than a statement calling him a hero.”
He added, “Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for.”
Obama and Lewis were very close throughout the years, especially after the “conscience of Congress” endorsed him for president during the 2008 presidential election, switching his support from Hillary Clinton.
In 2011, Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is one of the two highest honors that can be given to a civilian. Following his death, the former president once again paid tribute to the convictions that Lewis stood for in life.
Obama was not the only former president in attendance for the televised goodbye to Lewis. Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were on hand to pay their final respects. Both fondly remembered him as a public servant who got his start preaching to chickens and the call to service.
“I must say, for a fella that got his start speaking to chickens, John’s gotten a pretty finely organized and orchestrated and deeply deserved sendoff this last week,” Bush spoke.
Bush called on everyone to learn from how Lewis lived his life.
“His lesson for us is that we must all keep ourselves open to hearing the call of love, the call of service—and the call to sacrifice for others,” Bush said.
Clinton wanted to say “a few words about a man I truly loved,” and said that Lewis was a man greater than his own ambition.
“A man like all other humans, born with strengths that he made the most of when many don’t. Born with weaknesses that he worked hard to beat down when many can’t,” he praised.
As he closed his remarks, Clinton said that Lewis had offered his marching orders before he died.
“Salute, suit up, and march on,” Clinton said.
Former President Jimmy Carter also sent his condolences that were read by Rev. Raphael Warnock, who presided over the invitation-only funeral held at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. The COVID-19 pandemic limited those who could attend.
Other dignitaries who spoke included Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and activist James Lawson.
“John Lewis did not practice the politics of bipartisanship…[he] practiced the politics of the Declaration of Independence,” Lawson said.
Rev. Dr. Bernice King who offered a prayer for the congressman from Georgia who served for 33 years.
Lewis will be buried next to his wife, Lillian Lewis, who died in 2012, at Georgia’s South-View Cemetery, bringing to a close a two-week-long goodbye to the civil rights icon.
Lewis died on July 17 at the age of 80 after battling pancreatic cancer.
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