John Lewis was celebrated as an American hero during his funeral Thursday as former President Barack Obama and others called on people to follow Lewis’ example and fight injustice.
He was finally laid to rest at the historic South-View cemetery, a burial site of former slaves and their children.
Three former presidents joined in the eulogies at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church after nearly a week of mourning that took the civil rights icon from his birthplace in Alabama to the nation’s capital of Washington to his final resting place in his home of Atlanta.
Lewis was “a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance,” Obama said during a fiery speech in which he hearkened back to Lewis’ legacy and connected it to the ongoing fight against those who are “doing their darndest to discourage people from voting.”
“He as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals,” Obama said.
“And some day when we do finish that long journey towards freedom, when we do form a more perfect union, whether it’s years from now or decades or even if it takes another two centuries, John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America,” Obama said.
Former President George W. Bush said Lewis preached the Gospel and lived its ideals, “insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope.” Lewis died July 17 at the age of 80.
Lewis died July 17 at the age of 80.
The arc of Lewis’ legacy of activism was once again tied to Ebenezer’s former pastor Martin Luther King Jr., whose sermons Lewis discovered while scanning the radio dial as a 15-year-old boy growing up in then-segregated Alabama.
King continued to inspire Lewis’ civil rights work for the next 65 years as he fought segregation during sometimes bloody marches, Greyhound bus “Freedom Rides” across the South and later during his long tenure in the U.S. Congress.
Outside Ebenezer, hundreds gathered to watch the service on a large screen outside the church. Some sang the gospel song “We Shall Overcome.”
Shortly before he died, Lewis wrote an essay for The New York Times and asked that it be published on the day of his funeral.
In the piece published Thursday, Lewis recalled the teachings of King:
“He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice,” Lewis wrote.
“He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out.”
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