One person heartened by the sight of thousands of Americans taking to the streets to demand justice following the death of George Floyd was Rep. John Lewis.
Former President Barack Obama spoke with Lewis following Floyd’s death on May 25 and said “he could not have been prouder to see this new generation of activists standing up for freedom and equality,” the 44th president said in Atlanta today during Lewis’ funeral.
Speaking about Rep. John Lewis’ perseverance in fighting for civil rights and freedom, former President Barack Obama called on the country to be “vigilant against the darker currents” of US history.
Without directly mentioning recent incidents in Portland and other cities, Obama called out federal government agents that “use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.”
“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.
Former President Barack Obama took the opportunity during his eulogy for Rep. John Lewis to raise awareness about ongoing efforts to stifle voting in the US on the eve of a presidential election.
Obama said the late congressman “devoted his time on this Earth fighting the very attacks on democracy and what’s best in America that we’re seeing circulate right now.”
“We should keep marching. To make it even better. By making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who’ve earned their second chance,” Obama said to applause. “By adding polling places. And expanding early voting and making election day a national holiday so if you are somebody who’s working in a factory or you’re a single mom, who’s got to go to her job and doesn’t get time off, you can still cast your ballot. By guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington DC, and in Puerto Rico.”
Some context: Obama’s remarks came just hours after President Trump floated the idea of delaying November’s presidential election, lending voice to persistent concerns that he will seek to circumvent voting in a contest where he currently trails his opponent by double digits.
Trump has no authority to delay an election, and the Constitution gives Congress the power to set the date for voting. Lawmakers from both parties said almost immediately there was no likelihood the election would be delayed.
Former President Barack Obama called Congressman John Lewis “an American whose faith was tested again and again to produce a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance.”
“Now this country is a constant work in progress,” Obama continued. “We’re born with instructions to form a more perfect union. Explicit in those words is the idea that we’re imperfect. What gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further than any might have thought possible.”
“John Lewis, first of the Freedom Riders, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, member of Congress representing the people of this state and this district for 33 years, mentor to young people — including me, at the time,” Obama said.
“Until his final day on this Earth, he not only embraced that responsibility but he made it his life’s work,” Obama added.
Speaking at Rep. John Lewis’ Atlanta funeral, niece Sheila Lewis O’Brien described the man she knew as “uncle Robert.”
Behind the courageous man known to the world, she said, was a man that enjoyed family time and “sharing laughter and love.”
“While we knew how important he and his work was to the world, when we were with him, we saw uncle Robert,” O’Brien said “We saw the man that enjoyed spending time with his family, ribbing us about days gone by, catching up on family dynamics, enjoying a good meal, sharing laughter and love.”
O’Brien called on attendees and the country to take on Lewis’ baton “that he has now laid down” and to endeavor to get into “good trouble.”
“He truly made an impact, not just on America, but on the world. So today, we celebrate the life of Congressman John Lewis, our uncle Robert, the man who labored, the man who talked, the man who walked, fought, knelt, sat, held hands with both Blacks and Whites, bled, lifted his voice, bent his knees, and was willing to give up his life for a righteous cause,” she said.
“Let’s continue this celebration of life, by taking up the baton that he has now laid down, and endeavor to get into trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble. Let’s not give up. Let’s not give in. Let’s never give out,” O’Brien added.
At the funeral service of Rep. John Lewis, Bill Campbell, former Atlanta mayor, remembered his “dear, loving and loyal friend,” and described how the civil rights titan became a hero for individuals fighting multiple causes across the country.
“They say that the victors write history, and so I declare today that the history of the 20th century as it is written, John Lewis will stand beside Gandhi and King and Mandela, as one of the great transformative freedom fighters of human kind,” the former mayor said.
Campbell said that during the last days of his life, Lewis spoke to him about the importance of voting in November, calling it the “most important election ever.”
“And I promised him that with every fiber in my body I would tell everyone, if you truly want to honor this humble hero, make sure that you vote,” Campbell said.
Jamila Thompson, John Lewis’ deputy chief of staff, said the late congressman was a “peaceful soul” who treated everyone on his staff — from senior staffers to interns — with respect.
She said that when people asked what the congressman was like, she’d say, “He’s just as you may imagine, but better.”
Thompson remembered how the office joked about how much weight they gained after joining the staff because Lewis often brought in lunch — “and far, far too often dessert.”
“In our office, there was the John Lewis 20,” she said, adding that Lewis always wanted his staff to share meals.
Civil Rights leader Xernona Clayton described how she set John Lewis with his would-be wife, Lillian.
Clayton said Lillian moved too slowly for her tastes. She said she told her, “But Lillian, he’s busy! He’s fighting the evils of the world … I said, ‘Girl, listen. This boy is going places.'”
Clayton said one New Years Eve she invited both Lillian and John to a dinner party. They both assumed they were going to a big party — but when they got to Clayton’s house, there was only room for three.
John Lewis, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton
World news – US – Live updates: John Lewis’ funeral