John Lewis: The voice of the civil rights leader echoes the lie one last time | American News


John Lewis was a gentle man, but a Stentorian orator. On Monday, for the last time, his courageous voice echoed through the halls of the Capitol and paralyzed all who heard him.At the end of Lewis’s recording, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, sat down and the Rotunda erupted to applause. Then Pelosi stood up again and everyone followed his lead. In a perfect circle, the guests stood up and applauded the casket draped in stars and stripes over a black catafalque in their center.

They had come to bid farewell to “the conscience of Congress” which sat in the House of Representatives for 33 years. Lewis died on July 17 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 80. On Sunday, his remains made one final trip across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Selma, Alabama, where he bled for his civil rights in 1965.

On Monday, the coffin arrived in Washington and made four poignant stops: the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial (where he was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (a project which is one of his great legacies) and the new Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, recognizing a movement that has given his career exquisite symmetry. The police could be seen waving to the hearse as it passed.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott lay a wreath on the coffin of late Congressman John Lewis. Photograph: Getty Images

Then the coffin was solemnly transported to the steps of the United States Capitol. Lewis, who grew up on a farm in rural Alabama in southern Jim Crow, became the first black member of Congress to lie in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, resting on a catafalque previously used for Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The paradoxes of the American experience were evident when statues of slave-owning presidents George Washington and Andrew Jackson, and a bust of civil rights leader King, were seen in the magnificent building constructed with slaves.

Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, delivered a eulogy. “The original sin of slavery in America has been allowed to spread for far too long,” he said. “It left a long trail of pain, violence and rupture that required great efforts on the part of great heroes.

“John’s friend Dr Martin Luther King Jr said that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it leans toward justice’. But it is never automatic. The story has only leaned toward what’s right because people like John paid the price to help do it.

McConnell is currently blocking a vote on extending the recently renamed John Lewis Voting Rights Act and acting as the main catalyst for Donald Trump’s Conservative agenda. Asked at the White House if he intended to pay homage to Lewis, the president replied laconically: “No, I will not go. No. Trump and Lewis had fierce disagreements. But his rival in the election, Joe Biden, came to the Rotunda with his wife, Jill.

Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson wears a

Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson wears a “Good Trouble” face mask in the US Capitol Rotunda. Photograph: Rex / Shutterstock

Guests in attendance on Monday were seated physically at a distance from each other and wore face masks, some of which bore Lewis’ famous phrase, “Good boredom,” from his exhortation: “Never be afraid to make noise and ‘get in big trouble, necessary problem.

Pelosi, clad in black, with an American flag mask pulled down around his neck, paid tribute to his lifelong struggle against segregation and for racial justice. “Here in Congress, John was revered and loved on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of the Capitol,” she said. “We knew he was always working on the side of the angels – and now we know he’s with them.

And as if standing in the room, she said, “It is my personal privilege, at this time, for me to cede, to our dear colleague, the distinguished gentleman from Georgia, Congressman John Lewis.

The Rotunda was muffled when that familiar, fiery voice sounded once more. On the recording Lewis said: “As young people you have to understand that there are forces out there that want to take us back to another time. But we must say that we are not going back, we have made too much progress

Dr Wintley Phipps sings during the memorial service for the late Congressman John Lewis.

Dr Wintley Phipps sings during the memorial service for the late Congressman John Lewis. Photograph: Matt Mcclain / AFP / Getty Images

“There may be setbacks, delays, disappointments, but you should never, ever give up or give in. You have to keep the faith and keep your eyes on the prize. It is your vocation, it is your mission, it is your moral obligation, it is your mandate.


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