Rep. John Lewis’ final words: ‘Together, You Can Redeem The Soul of Our Nation’ (updated with Obama eulogy)

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The funeral service for Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon known as the “conscience of the U.S. Congress,” will begin at 11 a.m. ET Thursday, wrapping up six days of memorials paying tribute to his life and his legacy.

Former President Barack Obama will eulogize Lewis, while George W. Bush and Bill Clinton will also attend the private funeral at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once led. Lewis will be buried in South View Cemetery in Atlanta on Thursday afternoon.

In some of his final words, Lewis wrote about the current climate of America and the need to keep fighting for justice in an op-ed for The New York Times, which was to be published on the day of his funeral:

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. 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. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

Amen, brother John. May we all do our best to lead by your example to realize your dream.

UPDATE: Former President Barack Obama delivered a powerful eulogy for the late civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, and said Americans should honor his legacy by continuing his work for democracy and voting rights. “He as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals,” Mr. Obama said.




1 COMMENT

  1. The “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act”—sponsored by 47 Democrats and Republican Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)—was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday to restore the Voting Rights Act after it was gutted by the John Roberts Supreme Court in 2013.

    The bill would require that any state with a history of voting discrimination within the past 25 years seek federal approval before making any changes to its voting procedures [restoring Section 5 preclearance by amending Section 4 covered jurisdictions]. And it would mandate that any state, regardless of its history, obtain clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, DC, before making any changes that would tend to burden voters of color, such as strict voter ID laws or closing polling places in areas with large numbers of minority voters.

    The House passed identical legislation to restore the VRA in December [HR 4]. But Mitch McConnell has refused to take up the bill in the Senate.

    Sen. McConnell offered words of high praise for Rep. John Lewis when he laid in state in the capitol, but his actions speak louder than words. Pass this bill!

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