US Breaking down the significance of John Lewis' funeral service

22:49  31 july  2020
22:49  31 july  2020 Source:   cnn.com

John Lewis memorial services honoring civil rights hero begin today in Alabama

  John Lewis memorial services honoring civil rights hero begin today in Alabama Lewis, a son of Alabama sharecroppers who became a lion of the civil rights movement, will be honored over six days in five cities, from Troy, Alabama to Washington, D.C.Lewis, a son of Alabama sharecroppers who rose to become the "conscience of Congress" in his role representing Atlanta in the House of Representatives, died July 17 after a monthslong battle with cancer. He was 80.

It's impossible to overstate the symbolic and actual significance of the funeral service held on Thursday for John Lewis, the civil rights icon who died on July 17.

a room filled with furniture on top of a wooden table © Alyssa Pointer/Pool/AP

"I've come here today because I, like so many Americans, owe a great debt to John Lewis and his forceful vision of freedom," Barack Obama, the country's first Black president, said in a striking eulogy at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, which has long been a haven for the Black freedom struggle.

John Lewis' funeral to be attended by 3 ex-presidents, former VP Biden

  John Lewis' funeral to be attended by 3 ex-presidents, former VP Biden The Georgia Democrat died at 80 last week after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Lewis was already a major civil rights figure by the time he made it to the House in 1987: In 1961, he was one of the original 13 activists who participated in the Freedom Rides, and in 1963, he was one of the keynote speakers at the historic March on Washington. His death provoked a bipartisan outpouring of condolences. Your browser does not support this video require(["binding"], function (binding) { binding("wcVideoPlayer", "#video_player_0e42037d-9405-43fc-a586-88cf56a1027c").

Xernona Clayton sitting in a box © pool

Below are some highlights from the ceremony, which captured the deep resonance the late congressman had for so many.

a group of people riding on the back of a horse © John Bazemore/AP

'From Freedom Summer to Selma'

Former President George W. Bush grounded Lewis' legacy in history, recalling moments from the epic 1960s civil rights movement, in which Lewis was a central force.

"From Troy to the sit-ins of Nashville, from the Freedom Rides to the March on Washington, from Freedom Summer to Selma, John Lewis always looked outward, not inward," Bush said.

That one sentence neatly distilled some of the work that Lewis risked his life for. Famously, he was a key organizer of the 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. During the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, a state trooper viciously beat Lewis and fractured his skull. The event became known as Bloody Sunday.

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  Obama to speak at John Lewis's funeral Former President Obama will speak at the late Rep. John Lewis's (D-Ga.) funeral Thursday, according to a source familiar with the plans.Obama will attend the service alongside former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, according to multiple reports. The funeral for the civil rights icon and longtime Georgia lawmaker will be held at 11 a.m. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.Lewis died earlier this month at the age of 80. He announced late last year that he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer."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.

"I thought I was going to die on that bridge," Lewis says in "Good Trouble," a new CNN Films documentary.

These marches were crucial elements of the fight to secure the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a watershed piece of federal legislation that protects against racial discrimination in voting.

'The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen'

But it wasn't just what Lewis did that was so remarkable -- it was also how he did it.

"We honor our friend for his faith and for living his faith. Which the Scripture says is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen," former President Bill Clinton said. "John Lewis was a walking rebuke to people who thought, 'Well, we ain't there yet and we have been working a long time. Isn't it time to bag it?' He kept moving. He hoped for and imagined and lived and worked and moved for his beloved community."

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  John Lewis: 'Now it is your turn to let freedom ring' The late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said in a posthumous op-ed that he had been "inspired" shortly before his death by nationwide demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd in May.In a piece published the day of his funeral in The New York Times, the civil rights titan recounted his own fears after the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and his own path to the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. require(["medianetNativeAdOnArticle"], function (medianetNativeAdOnArticle) { medianetNativeAdOnArticle.

Lilly Alfonso sitting on a wooden table: Jamila Thompson Deputy Chief of Staff for Congressman Lewis © pool Jamila Thompson Deputy Chief of Staff for Congressman Lewis

Kept moving. Hoped. Imagined. Lewis was intimately familiar with injustice: its blows, its betrayals. But that never pulled him away from his faith, his central tenet of nonviolence or his belief in equality.

"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," Lewis wrote in a New York Times essay published on Thursday.

Bill Clinton et al. sitting at a table with a vase of flowers © Alyssa Pointer/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Notably, Clinton also faced rebuke for some of his comments.

"There were two or three years there where the movement went a little too far toward Stokely, but in the end John Lewis prevailed," Clinton said.

He was referring to Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture), who in 1966 succeeded Lewis as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and who eventually developed the Black Power movement, which took a more militant approach to activism.

a group of people standing around a bench © Alyssa Pointer/Pool/AP

Clinton's remarks, which slammed one Black freedom fighter in an attempt to elevate another, struck an understandably sour note.

John Lewis Calls Americans to Action in Posthumous Op-Ed: 'Now is Your Turn to Let Freedom Ring'

  John Lewis Calls Americans to Action in Posthumous Op-Ed: 'Now is Your Turn to Let Freedom Ring' Ahead of Rep. John Lewis' funeral Thursday, the New York Times published a posthumous op-ed in which the late civil rights leader urges readers to continue the fight for justice and "let freedom ring." "While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me," he wrote. "You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division.

'Lillian needed a good man, not just the bums who were approaching her'

Civil rights leader Xernona Clayton brought humor to the service by sharing the personal story of how she had introduced Lewis to his late wife, Lillian.

Clayton said she admired John's fervor and tenacity and knew that Lillian was single, "so I decided that Lillian needed a good man, not just the bums who were approaching her."

"She was highly intellectual, well-traveled, well-educated. And I wanted her to have someone who really would appreciate her skills and her talent. So I looked around and decided that I liked John," Clayton said.

She recalled that Lillian wasn't interested in John at first, but Clayton persisted. She arranged a New Year's Eve dinner party that Lillian and John both expected to be a big bash -- but it was only the three of them. The relationship blossomed into love, and Lillian and John were married in 1968.

"But Lillian and John stayed married. I put it together, but it lasted 43 years. That's not a bad record, is it? They were happy, and Lillian gave him every support a wife could ever give a partner," Clayton said.

'He's just as you may imagine, but better'

Jamila Thompson, Lewis' deputy chief of staff, spoke of the late congressman as a "gentleman" and "peaceful soul" who treated each of his staffers with respect.

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  Watch live: John Lewis's funeral in Atlanta Former President Barack Obama will eulogize the late Rep. John Lewis at his funeral in Atlanta on Thursday, the sixth and final day of memorials paying tribute to the Democratic congressman from Georgia and civil rights icon who died earlier this month. Yahoo News will carry live video of the funeral services beginning at 11 a.m. ET. © Provided by Yahoo! News Members of the joint services military honor guard carry the casket of Rep. John Lewis into the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Thursday.

"People always ask us: 'What was it like to work for Congressman Lewis? What was he like up close? What was he like in real life?' And it is too difficult to explain, so my answer was always the same, 'He's just as you may imagine, but better,' " said Thompson, who spoke on behalf of Lewis' staff at the service.

She added: "So many workers are often taught to be invisible, but with Mr. Lewis, he always saw you and made you feel special and worthy."

Thompson remembered how Lewis provided lunch so often that office members joked about how much weight they had gained and how he always wanted his staff to share a meal -- breaking down work barriers.

"We were a little family, a little enclave. A lot of drama, a lot of fun and so much love," she said.

Thompson also spoke of how hard Lewis worked for his constituents and tested his staff to see if they were informed, saying that he had taken "immense pride" in representing Georgia's 5th Congressional District.

"The constituents were a compass, and Congressman Lewis worked around the clock to find solutions to their challenges," she said.

'In the pulpit of its greatest pastor'

The choice of location mattered, too.

"It is a great honor to be back in Ebenezer Baptist Church, in the pulpit of its greatest pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to pay my respects to perhaps his finest disciple -- an American whose faith was tested again and again to produce a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance -- John Robert Lewis," Obama said.

King was co-pastor of Ebenezer from 1960 until his assassination in 1968. In the decades since, the 134-year-old church has become something of a locus of the civil rights movement.

Stephen Miller criticizes Obama for 'shockingly political' remarks at John Lewis funeral

  Stephen Miller criticizes Obama for 'shockingly political' remarks at John Lewis funeral White House adviser Stephen Miller criticized former President Obama on Friday for his "shockingly political" remarks about voting rights at the funeral for the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) the day before.Obama, the nation's first Black president, was one of three former commanders in chief who delivered a eulogy at the civil rights icon's funeral. Obama railed against racial inequality and ongoing voter suppression, an issue Lewis dedicated his political career to fighting. require(["medianetNativeAdOnArticle"], function (medianetNativeAdOnArticle) { medianetNativeAdOnArticle.

The funerals of Hosea Williams, an organizer who along with Lewis led some 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, and Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man who in June was fatally shot by Atlanta police, were held at Ebenezer.

In addition, Ebenzer served as a gathering place in the wake of the shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando.

"Ebenezer is a place that people turn to in these moments of crisis in this city and the nation," Ebenezer senior pastor Raphael G. Warnock told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "People saw it as a place where they could bring their pain, and families saw it as a sanctuary for them in a time of need. And John Lewis is an important part of this story."

'Bull Connor may be gone'

In his eulogy for Lewis, Obama went beyond pure remembrance of the congressman.

He drew parallels between Lewis' fight for civil rights -- the opposition he faced -- and the present-day protests over the deaths of Black Americans at police officers' hands, declaring that Lewis' struggle for racial equality, which he had devoted his life to, isn't over.

"Bull Connor may be gone. But today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans. George Wallace may be gone. But we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators," Obama said, naming two segregationists and nodding to Trump administration-sanctioned assaults on protesters in Washington and in Portland, Oregon.

The former president also warned of attacks against democracy and efforts to disenfranchise Americans.

"We may no longer have to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar in order to cast a ballot. But even as we sit here, there are those in power doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting -- by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that is going to be dependent on mailed-in ballots so people don't get sick," he said.

Obama celebrated Lewis not as a static hero -- but as a peerless activist whose work must be protected.

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