The civil rights leader is being laid to rest in Atlanta, the city he represented in Congress for more than three decades.
A crowd began gathering early in the morning outside Ebenezer Baptist Church, the sanctuary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, where the funeral will be held.
Over the last few days, the body of Representative John Lewis has traveled the country, from his native Alabama to the halls of Washington, D.C., to a public viewing Wednesday in Atlanta, his longtime adopted hometown, where scores of mourners lined up on a sweltering afternoon to bid him goodbye.
At 11 a.m. on Thursday, the final farewell will take place. A crowd began gathering early in the morning outside Ebenezer Baptist Church, the sanctuary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama are expected to attend, with Mr. Obama delivering the eulogy. President Jimmy Carter, who is 95, will not be attending, but has sent condolences to the Lewis family in writing, a spokesperson said.
Mr. Lewis’s homegoing at Ebenezer evokes decades of civil rights history. The bodies of Dr. King, a mentor and ally of Mr. Lewis, and Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, lie side-by-side over a reflecting pool across Auburn Avenue, a fabled street of Black commerce and culture known as “Sweet Auburn” that is also home to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park.
Mr. Lewis was a member of the church. Its pastor, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, is currently running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. And last month, the church hosted the funeral for Rayshard Brooks, a Black man fatally shot by a white police officer at an Atlanta fast-food restaurant.
A motorcade on Wednesday led John Lewis on one final tour of Atlanta, the city he represented in Congress for more than three decades and a place he helped establish as the spiritual home of a nonviolent movement to protest racism.
But on this ultimate journey, the hearse carrying the body of the congressman and civil rights leader traversed a city that in recent weeks has been racked by turmoil. It drove down streets where scores of demonstrators have marched this summer to protest police violence, including the fatal shooting of Mr. Brooks.
Mr. Lewis’s death on July 17 came amid a moment of unrest across America, with the nation again wrestling with its troubled racial history. And in the days since, at memorial events in Alabama and Washington, one person after the next has invoked Mr. Lewis’s credo of getting into “good trouble.” As a young man — and for the rest of his life — he defined it as a moral call to rebel through nonviolent means against injustices, even if the consequences were perilous.
The conversations about Mr. Lewis’s legacy, with some of his colleagues calling him the “conscience of Congress,” have pushed many activists and others to consider how his message of nonviolent resistance has endured and evolved for a new generation carrying on the fight.
“It’s easy to go violence on violence,” David Parker, an Army veteran who works for a courier company, said on Wednesday as he stood in a long line at the Statehouse to bid Mr. Lewis farewell. “The hard part is peace.”
“You go the other way,” Mr. Parker, 54, said, “you’re going to blow up the country.”
Outside the gold-domed Georgia Capitol, a diverse crowd that had come to pay their respects snaked around the building and seemed to constantly replenish itself. The crowd was young and old, in hijabs and ball caps, in formal dress and T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan of a new civil rights protest movement that Mr. Lewis had wholeheartedly endorsed.
Cedric Williams, 56, a tech worker, spoke of growing up Black in Memphis, and of being scarred, as a young man, by the 1968 assassination of Dr. King in his hometown.
Mr. Lewis’s consistent preaching of a shared humanity that transcends racial barriers spoke to him, as did his insistence that people, and the nation, were capable of change, just as Mr. Williams himself had changed.
“We’re still talking about those same issues,” Mr. Williams said, adding that he had been heartened by Mr. Lewis’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter effort as the latest chapter in a movement he had helped steer. “We are standing on the shoulders of greatness.”
Mr. Lewis wrote an essay shortly before his death for The New York Times to publish on the day of his funeral. Here is an excerpt.
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. 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. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.
That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.
Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me.
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. 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. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
[Read more about this essay and Mr. Lewis’s legacy from The Times’s editorial page editor, Kathleen Kingsbury.]
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