Former President Barack Obama eulogized late civil rights legend John Lewis on Thursday with a powerful call to action. “If you want to honor John, let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for," Obama said, referring to the Voting Rights Act.
Lewis, who died earlier this month following a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer, was a leader in the civil rights movement. He was one of the original organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, took part in lunch counter sit-ins and joined the Freedom Riders in challenging segregated buses. He was arrested and jailed many times while engaging in nonviolent action — which he said was part of his long standing conviction that getting into "good trouble" was necessary for the movement.
Obama's comments connected the current protests against police brutality with the battles Lewis fought as a young man.
"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. "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."
The three-hour funeral service had wall-to-wall coverage from most major networks, which broke into regular daytime programming to carry the broadcast without commercial breaks. All mourners were required to wear masks and social distancing was maintained.
Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also gave tributes at the service.
"When he could have been angry and determined to cancel his adversaries, he tried to get converts instead. He thought an opened hand was better than a clenched fist," Clinton said.
"Mr. John and I had our disagreements, of course, but in the America John Lewis fought for, and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable and evidence of democracy in action," Bush said.