As family, friends and dignitaries paid their final respects at the Atlanta funeral of John Lewis, the civil rights leader and 17-term Georgia congressmember was remembered as a singular force for equality and justice. The funeral took place at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, once led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where senior pastor Rev. Raphael Warnock contrasted Lewis’s legacy with “some in high office who are much better at division than vision,” and described the late politician as “a true American patriot who risked his life and bled for the hope and promise of democracy.”
AMY GOODMAN: Family members, lawmakers, three living former U.S. presidents gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, Thursday to honor the life of civil rights legend, 17-term Congressmember John Lewis, who represented the city of Atlanta for more than three decades and was known as the conscience of Congress. John Lewis died July 17th at the age of 80.
Thursday’s service marked the end of a homegoing journey that began over the weekend in Troy, Alabama, where he was born, carried his body onward to Selma, over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and Washington, D.C., then to Atlanta. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each spoke at the service, and remarks from Jimmy Carter, who doesn’t travel due to coronavirus, were read aloud. President Barack Obama delivered the eulogy. President Donald Trump was notably absent. Interestingly, John Lewis boycotted both Donald Trump and George W. Bush’s inaugurations and was an early outspoken critic of the Iraq War.
The funeral took place at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, once led by Martin Luther King Jr. and his father. Dr. King nicknamed John Lewis “the boy from Troy” when they first met in Montgomery in 1958. In a minute, we’ll hear the words of President Obama and civil rights legend, Reverend James Lawson. But first, Reverend Raphael Warnock gave the opening remarks as he presided over the funeral.
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: We praise God for John Lewis. And as we gather in this house of God, we are reminded that as a teenager, he actually wrestled with a call to ministry. A farm boy, he used to preach to the chickens. I guess you have to start somewhere. And at age 16, he preached what we Baptists call his trial sermon in a little country church. But as his life took shape, instead of preaching sermons, he became one. He became a living, walking sermon about truth-telling and justice-making in the Earth. He loved America until America learned how to love him back. We celebrate John Lewis.
At a time that there is so much going on in our world, the news cycle is packed and moves at a dizzying pace, yet for the last several days, it is as if time stood still while the nation takes its time to remember him. And I rise simply to ask: In this call to celebration, what is it that has summoned us here and calls us to slow down, to linger for a little while, with so much swirling around us?
We are summoned here because in a moment when there are some in high office who are much better at division than vision, who cannot lead us so they seek to divide us, in a moment when there is so much political cynicism and narcissism that masquerades as patriotism, here lies a true American patriot who risked his life and limb for the hope and the promise of democracy. We celebrate John Lewis.
Beaten and battered, but never bitter and always unbowed. On a bridge in Selma, he stared down bigotry and brutality and tyranny, and won. How did he do it? The great-great-grandson of slaves, he received a spiritual power, born of suffering, a moral audacity that transcended human station and called upon the human law to more closely align itself with the law of love.
Howard Thurman said, “By some amazing but vastly creative spirituality, the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst.” John Lewis’s ancestors met a man named Jesus in the brush arbors of Alabama and Georgia and Mississippi, and John Lewis received that faith and took it with him across that bridge in Selma and every other bridge. We come to celebrate John Lewis.
And so, let us be clear: When President Lyndon Baines Johnson picked up his pen to sign the voting rights bill into law, what he etched in ink had already been sanctioned by blood — the blood of the martyrs; the blood of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, two Jews and an African American who were murdered in Mississippi; the blood of Viola Liuzzo; the blood of John Lewis. We celebrate John Lewis.
He was wounded for America’s transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him. And by his stripes, we are healed. So, let’s remember him today, and let’s recommit tomorrow to standing together and fighting together and voting together and standing up on behalf of truth and righteousness together. We’ll get through this together. Let’s save the soul of our democracy together. Let’s worship the Lord. Let’s worship the Lord together. Thank God for John Robert Lewis.
AMY GOODMAN: Senior Pastor Raphael Warnock of the Ebenezer Baptist Church — he is actually running for the U.S. Senate in November — speaking at Thursday’s funeral for John Lewis in Atlanta. You can see our full interview with Warnock earlier this week at our website, democracynow.org.
When we come back, we’ll hear from the Reverend James Lawson, a civil rights icon himself, and former President Barack Obama. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Holliday singing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” at John Lewis’s funeral on Thursday.