Joe Biden was among many at the US Capitol on Monday paying tribute to the late Democratic Rep. John Lewis.
Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, served in Congress alongside Lewis. The pair became friends over their two decades on Capitol Hill together and Biden’s two terms as vice president to President Barack Obama, who awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
Lewis died July 17 at the age of 80. Born to sharecroppers during Jim Crow segregation, Lewis was beaten by Alabama state troopers during the civil rights movement, spoke ahead of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the nation’s first Black president in 2011.
Dozens of lawmakers looked on Monday, several wiping tears, as Lewis’ flag-draped casket sat atop the catafalque built for President Abraham Lincoln and as late congressman’s voice echoed off the marble and gilded walls. Lewis was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Rotunda.
In a solemn display of bipartisan unity, congressional leaders praised Lewis as a moral force for the nation in a Capitol Rotunda ceremony rich with symbolism and punctuated by the booming, recorded voice of the late civil rights icon.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Lewis the “conscience of the Congress” who was “revered and beloved on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of the Capitol.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the longtime Georgia congressman as a model of courage and a “peacemaker.”
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus wore masks with the message “Good Trouble,” a nod to Lewis’ signature advice and the COVID-19 pandemic that has made for unusual funeral arrangements.
Following the Rotunda service, Lewis’ body was moved to the steps on the Capitol’s east side for a public viewing, an unusual sequence required because the pandemic has closed the Capitol to the public.
Notably absent from the ceremonies was President Donald Trump. Lewis once called Trump an illegitimate president and chided him for stoking racial discord. Trump countered by blasting Lewis’ Atlanta congressional district as “crime-infested.” Trump said he would not go to the Capitol, but Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to pay his respects later Monday.
Just ahead of the ceremonies, the House passed a bill to establish a new federal commission to study conditions that affect Black men and boys.
Born near Troy, Alabama, Lewis was among the original Freedom Riders, a group of young activists who boarded commercial passenger buses and traveled through the segregated Jim Crow South. They were assaulted and battered at many stops along the way, by citizens and authorities alike. Lewis was the youngest and last-living of those who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington.
Lewis already had a public funeral in Troy. He will have a private funeral Thursday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which King once led.
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