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Funeral Service for Civil Rights Icon, the Late Congressman John Lewis. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired July 30, 2020 - 13:30   ET



SHEILA O'BRIEN, NIECE OF JOHN LEWIS: He did not miss an opportunity for a photo-op or to just take a few moments to talk to his constituents or to those that revered him.

His love was contagious, and it could be felt each time you were in his presence.

Over the last several days, listening to the numerous accomplishments, some of which he labored for years over, it is evident why his life is being celebrated at this magnitude. He truly made an impact, not just on America but on the world.

So today, we celebrate the life of Congressman John Lewis, our Uncle Robert. The man who labored, the man who taught, the man who walked, fought, knelt, sat, held hands with both blacks and whites, bled, lifted his voice, bent his knees, and was willing to give up his life for a righteous cause.

Let's continue this celebration of life by taking up the baton he has now laid down and endeavor to get into trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.

Let's not give up. Let's not give in. Let's never give out. Let's keep the faith, keep our eyes on the prize.

Rest in power, Uncle Robert. May your legacy live on and never die.

We believe you have heard the words from my heavenly father, well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.

And I say to all of us, weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. Guess what? It's morning time.


REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK, SENIOR PASTOR, EBENEZER BAPTIST CHURCH: A few years ago, Congressman John Lewis attended the inauguration of an American president.

Although he had seen many presidents, he made a beeline to this president and asked him to sign his program. He signed the program in this way: "Because of you, John."

It's my esteemed welcome back to the Ebenezer pulpit, the 44th president of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

But before he comes, Jennifer Holiday will come once again, "Take My Hand Precious Lord, Lead Me On."








BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: James wrote to the believers, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing."

It is a great honor to be back in Ebenezer Baptist Church, in the pulpit of its greatest pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, to pay my respects to perhaps his finest disciple.

An American whose faith was tested again and again, to produce a man of pure joy, unbreakable perseverance, John Robert Lewis.

To those who have spoken, to Presidents Bush and Clinton, Madame Speaker, Reverend Warnock, Reverend King, John's family, friends, his beloved staff, Mayor Bottoms, I've come here today because I, like so many Americans, owe a great debt to John Lewis and his forceful vision of freedom.

This country is a constant work in progress. We're born with instructions, to form a more perfect union. Explicit in those words is the idea that we're imperfect. That's what gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further than any might have thought possible.

John Lewis, first of the freedom riders, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, youngest speaker at the march on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, member of Congress, representing the people of this state and this district for 33 years, mentor to young people, including me at the time, until his final day on this earth, he not only embraced that responsibility but he made it his life's work.

Which isn't bad for a boy from Troy.

John was born into modest means. That means he was poor.

(LAUGHTER) OBAMA: In the heart of the Jim Crow south, to parents who picked somebody else's cotton.

Apparently, he didn't take to farm work. On days when he was supposed to help his brothers and sisters with their labor, he'd hide under the porch. And make a break for the school bus when it showed up.

His mother, Willie Mae Lewis, nurtured that curiosity in this shy, serious child. Once you learn something, she told her son, once you get something inside your head, no one can take it away from you.


As a boy, John listened through the door after bedtime as his father's friends complained about the Klan. One Sunday, as a teenager, he heard Dr. King preach on the radio. As a college student in Tennessee, he signed up for Jim Lawson's (ph) workshops on the tactic of nonviolent civil disobedience.

John Lewis was getting something inside his head. An idea he couldn't shake. Took hold of him. That nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience were the means to change laws but also change hearts and change minds and change nations and change the world.

So he helped organize the Nashville campaign in 1960. He and other young men and women sat at a segregated lunch counter, well dressed, straight backed, refusing to let a milk shake poured on their heads or a cigarette extinguished on their backs or a foot aimed at their ribs, refused to let that dent their dignity and their sense of purpose.

And after a few months, the Nashville campaign achieved the first successful desegregation of public facilities in any major city in the south.

John got a taste of jail for the first, second, third -- well, several times.


OBAMA: But he also got a taste of victory. And it consumed him with righteous purpose and he took the battle deeper into the south.

That same year, just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of interstate bus facilities was unconstitutional, John and Bernard Lafayette bought two tickets, climbed aboard a Greyhound, sat up front and refused to move. This was months before the first official freedom riders.

He was doing a test. Trip was unsanctioned. Few knew what they were up to.

At every stop through the night, apparently, the angry driver stormed out of the bus and into the bus station. And John and Bernard had no idea what he might come back with, or who he might come back with.

Nobody was there to protect them. There were no camera crews to record events.

You know, sometimes, we read about this and we kind of take it for granted, or at least we -- we act as if it was inevitable.

Imagine the courage of two people Malia's age, younger than my oldest daughter, on their own, to challenge an entire infrastructure of oppression.

John was only 20 years old. But he pushed all 20 of those years to the center of the table, betting everything, all of it, that his example could challenge centuries of convention and generations of brutal violence and countless daily indignities suffered by African Americans.

Like John the Baptist, preparing the way. Like those Old Testament prophets, speaking truth to kings.


John Lewis did not hesitate. And he kept on, getting on board buses and sitting at lunch counters, got his mug shot taken again and again. Marched again and again on a mission to change America.

Spoke to 40 million people at the march on Washington when he was just 23. Helped organize the freedom summer in Mississippi when he was just 24. At the ripe old age of 25, John was asked to lead the march from Selma, Montgomery.

He was warned that Governor Wallis had ordered troopers to use violence. But he and Jose Williams and others led them across that bridge anyway. And we've all seen the film and the footage and the photographs.

President Clinton mentioned the trench coat, the knapsack, the book to read, the apple to eat, the toothbrush. Apparently, jails weren't big on such creature comforts.


OBAMA: And you look at those pictures and John looked so young, and he's small in stature, looking every bit that shy, serious child that his mother had raised. And yet, he's full of purpose. God's put perseverance in him.

And we know what happened to the marchers that day. Their bones were cracked by Billy clubs. Their eyes and lungs choked with tear gas.

And they knelt to pray, which made their heads easier targets, and John was struck in the skull. And he thought he was going to die, surrounded by the sight of young Americans gagging and bleeding and trampled. Victims in their own country of state-sponsored violence.

And the thing is, I imagine, initially, that day, the troopers thought they'd won the battle.

(CROSSTALK) OBAMA: You can imagine the conversations they had afterwards.


OBAMA: You can imagine them saying, yes, we showed them. They figured they'd turn the protesters back over the bridge. That they kept, that they preserved a system that denied the basic humanity of their fellow citizens.

Except this time, there were some cameras there. This time, the world saw what happened, bore witness to black Americans, who were asking for nothing more than to be treated like other Americans, who were not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment, promised to them a century before, and almost another century before that.

And when John woke up and checked himself out of the hospital, he would make sure the world saw a movement that was, in the words of scripture, "hard pressed on every side but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair" --


OBAMA: "-- Persecuted but not abandoned, sluffed down but not destroyed."


OBAMA: They return to Brown Chapel. A battered profit, bandages around his head. And he said more marchers will come now. And the people came. And the troopers parted. And the marchers reached Montgomery.


And their words reached the White House. And Lyndon Johnson, a son of the south, said, "We shall overcome." And the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.

The life of John Lewis was, in so many ways, exceptional.

It vindicated the faith in our founding, redeemed that faith, that most American of ideas, the idea that any of us, ordinary people without rank or wealth or title or fame, can somehow point out the imperfections of this nation and come together and challenge the status quo and decide that it is in our power to remake this country that we love until it more closely aligns with our highest ideals.

What a radical idea. What a revolutionary notion. This idea that any of us, ordinary people, a young kid from Troy, can stand up to the powers and principalities and say, no, this isn't right, this isn't true, this isn't just. We can do better.

In the battlefield of justice, Americans like John, Americans like Reverend Lowery and C.T. Vivian, two other patriots we lost this year, liberated all of us, that many Americans came to take for granted.

America was built by people like that. America was built by John Lewis.


OBAMA: He, as much as anyone in our history, brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals.

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: And yet, as exceptional as John was, here's the thing, John never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country can do.

I mention in the statement that Daijun (ph) passed, the thing about John was how gentle and humble he was. And despite this storied, remarkable career, he treated everyone with kindness and respect because it was innate to him, this idea that any of us can do what he did if we're willing to persevere.


He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage. That in all of us, there's a longing to do what's right. That in all of us, there's a willingness to love all people and extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect.