Congressman John Lewis, who passed away July 17 after a six-month battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, was laid to rest Thursday in Atlanta.
At the funeral held at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, three former U.S. presidents — Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush — gave eulogies in honor of the legendary representative.
“He, as much as anyone in our history, brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals,” Obama said in his address.
“John never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country can do,” Obama, who awarded Lewis the Medal of Freedom in 2011, continued. “I mentioned in the statement the day John passed, the thing about John was just 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.”
Bush remembered Lewis as a leader who “always looked outward, not inward.”
“He always thought of others. He always believed in preaching the Gospel, in word and in deed, insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope,” Bush said. “John Lewis believed in the Lord. He believed in humanity, and he believed in America.”
In his speech, Clinton referred to Lewis as “a man I loved for a long time.”
“I think it’s important for all of us who loved him to remember that he was, after all, a human being,” Clinton said, adding, “John Lewis was many things, but he was a man.”
Though he did not attend the service, 39th U.S. President Jimmy Carter wrote a letter dedicated to Lewis, which was read aloud by Reverend Raphael Warnock.
“Throughout his remarkable life, John has been a blessing to countless people. We are proud to be among those whose lives he has touched,” Carter, 95, wrote. “While his achievements are enjoyed by all Americans, we Georgians know him as our neighbor, friend and representative. His enormous contributions will continue to be an inspiration for generations to come.”
Among those in attendance were Senators Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida, 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, and Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Thursday, the New York Times published an op-ed written by Lewis shortly before his death. In the moving piece, Lewis pays tribute to Black Americans such as Emmett Till, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, and countless others who unjustly lost their lives.
“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,” he wrote. “In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.”
Despite these injustices, Lewis believes the current generation can create change if individuals “answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.”
“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,” he continued. “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.”
Our condolences go out to the Lewis family for their loss.