Today, former President Barack Obama delivered a riveting eulogy for the late Rep. John Robert Lewis. His speech came after a day of heartfelt tributes to honor the legacy of the civil rights icon and the example he set for America to keep marching toward racial justice and a more perfect union. Lewis, the son of sharecroppers, who survived a brutal beating by police during a landmark 1965 march in Selma, Alabama, to become a towering figure of the civil rights movement and a longtime US congressman, died after a six-month battle with cancer. He was 80.
Lewis, a Democrat who served as the US representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for more than three decades, was widely seen as a moral conscience of Congress because of his decades-long embodiment of nonviolent fight for civil rights. His passionate oratory was backed by a long record of action that included, by his count, more than 40 arrests while demonstrating against racial and social injustice.
Obama described Lewis’s rise from a place of “modest means” in rural Troy, Alabama, where, as a boy, he eavesdropped on his father’s discussions with friends about the murderous violence of the local Ku Klux Klan. As Obama described, after hearing King speak on the radio, Lewis became one of the greatest advocates for nonviolent resistance this country has seen.
The former president turned his attention to today’s political turmoil. He referenced George Floyd’s death, the Trump Administration sending in federal agents to quash protests and challenges to mail-in voting during this “urgent” upcoming election. Obama acknowledged his political remarks may be unwelcomed by some but continued by saying:
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.
We may no longer have to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar in order to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here, there are those in power, who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision — even undermining the postal service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick.
I know this is a celebration of John’s life. There are some who might say we shouldn’t dwell on such things. But that’s why I’m talking about it. John devoted his time on this earth fighting the very attacks on democracy.
Obama honored Lewis in 2011 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During the White House ceremony, the 44th president recalled Lewis returning to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. after he was nearly beaten to death. Obama said for generations from now parents will evoke Lewis when they teach their children about courage. Lewis, the personification of transitioning from a political activist to a politician, was a lightning bolt for equity, social change, and social justice. Americans must continue his legacy, never forget history, pursue equity, and get in “good trouble.”
Obama delivered a riveting eulogy. It was one of the finest funeral orations by an American president—a tribute to Lewis’ life and a specific, actionable plea to protect the rights for which he and so many others fought and bled. History will determine whether his call—and that of Lewis—has been heard in the United States. The civil rights leader is being laid to rest in Atlanta, the city he represented in Congress for more than three decades.
Lewis died on the same day as civil rights leader the Rev. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, who was 95. The dual deaths of the civil rights icons come as the nation continues to grapple with racial tension in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests that have swept the nation.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Slate: Barack Obama’s Eulogy for John Lewis Was Perfect
CNN: Civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis dead at 80
Top Image Courtesy by Lawrence Jackson (White House) – Wikimedia Creative Commons License
Inside Image Courtesy of The White House – Wikimedia Creative Commons License
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