John Lewis to Lie in State in the U.S. Capitol

July 24, 2020 by Dan McCue
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., participates in a ceremony to unveil two plaques recognizing the contributions of enslaved African Americans in the construction of the United States Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington. Lewis, who carried the struggle against racial discrimination from Southern battlegrounds of the 1960s to the halls of Congress, died July 17. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

WASHINGTON – Rep. John Lewis will lie in state at the Capitol next week, with the public viewing extended over two days and moved outdoors to allow for social distancing and public health precautions due to COVID-19.

After an invitation-only arrival ceremony in the Capitol rotunda Monday afternoon, the Georgia Democrat will lie in state at the top of the east front steps of the U.S. Capitol on Monday and Tuesday for the viewing.

Lewis, 80, a civil rights icon who went on to a career of more than three decades in Congress as a Democrat representing Atlanta, died July 17.

He was being treated for pancreatic cancer.

“The family requests that members of the public do not travel to Washington, D.C., from across the country to pay their respects at the U.S. Capitol given the COVD-19 pandemic,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a joint statement.

Instead, Lewis’ family is encouraging virtual and online tributes to be posted using the hashtags #BelovedCommunity or #HumanDignity.

The statement goes on to say that per District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser’s orders, face masks will be required to enter the line and “social distancing will also be strictly enforced.”

“Given expected high temperatures and the potential for inclement weather, members of the public are encouraged to bring water and umbrellas,” the statement continues.

The line will begin at First and East Capitol Streets Northeast, and the public will file past on the East Plaza.

On Monday, public viewing will begin at approximately 6 p.m. Eastern time and end at 10 p.m. It will run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday.

The Capitol has been closed to nearly all visitors since March, and many staffers are still working from home in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The plan to honor Lewis outdoors is a departure from tradition, but aligned with public health guidance, which says outdoor gatherings are safer than those in enclosed spaces.

The lying in state will not be the only public celebration of Lewis’ life and legacy.

“The Lewis family will provide additional details regarding arrangements beyond the Capitol ceremony, including a procession through Washington, D.C., where members of the public will also be able to pay their respects in a socially distant manner,” Pelosi and McConnell wrote.

Lewis was a figure who inspired near-universal respect and admiration on Capitol Hill and across the nation. Below are some of the statements made about him since his passing.

Pelosi Floor Speech on the Passing of Congressman John Lewis

On July 22, Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the floor of the House.

“This big picture of John Lewis was just put up here. ‘Rest in Power,’ it says. You can’t see from the TV, but over here in the front row is a big bouquet of white flowers. It’s in the place where John usually sat in the front row of a section that many of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus held forth, conspired sometimes, plotted and made progress for the American people.

“It’s appropriate that we have those flowers there, where John sat for so many years. John Meacham, who is writing a book on John Lewis, told us yesterday on a Caucus call that when John was born he was born into a garden. He loved to be in the garden. He loved to be with the chicks, as we know, little chickens. And he loved to see things grow, loved to see things grow and he lived his life in that way. He loved to see progress grow, he loved to see love and peace grow, he loved to see ideas grow and he loved to see a more perfect union grow.

“Many of our colleagues will have many things to say this evening and because of the special order, I don’t have my usual one minute which is endless, so I’ll be briefer and save some remarks for another time. But here’s what I want to say. Just to say this:

“John had always been, has always been about nonviolence. That was his spirit, in everything that he did was respectful of other views and respectful of other people. In the spirit of nonviolence, that was Dr. Lawson, Reverend Lawson taught that to him, to Dr. King and the rest, and it was, much of it, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolence that he put forth.

“In Sanskrit, Mahatma Gandhi’s language, the word for nonviolence, it’s satyagraha. That word means two things: nonviolence, and insistence on the truth. And John Lewis, nonviolently, always insisted on the truth. Whether it was at a lunch counter, the truth of equality; whether it was upholding the Constitution, the truth of our Founders; whether – in everything that he did, it was about truth and peace and love.

“And so, I’m going to submit my statement for the record because, again, I’m not used to not having endless time as the Speaker of the House. But I do know that our colleagues have a great deal to say.

“I just want to say this one thing. Again, one more thing. At the end of his life, the end of his time in Washington, D.C., right before he was preparing to go back to Atlanta, just a couple of weeks ago, in the middle of the night he decided, early in the morning, 4:00 a.m., that he was going to go, in the morning, to Black Lives Matter on the street.

“So, one of the last official or public photos that we have of John Lewis is with the Mayor of Washington, D.C., and then alone, standing on that beautiful tapestry, Black Lives Matter. His connection – the connection from John, the boy from Troy, to Black Lives Matter, the future of a movement he was so much a part. May he rest in power. May he rest in peace.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., also spoke on the House floor on July 22.

“Some in my generation remember the song, ‘Abraham, Martin, and John.’ And then, of course, there was Bobby. All four taken from us far too early in their lives. God blessed each of us, this institution, and this country with giving to John Lewis health for eight decades. He used that health and strength, mind and body to serve his God, his faith, his country, and his people.

“I can say that John Lewis was my friend. But then again, we could all say that John Lewis was our friend and be right in that claim. Because John Lewis was a person who loved his fellow human beings. So many of you have heard me refer to John Lewis as the most Christ-like person I have ever met. He was human, and he represented the best of humanity, all the positive attributes that humanity can summon.

“And that is why you hear from both sides of the aisle, from all ideologies, from people of different colors and different races and different genders and different nationalities and… certainly different languages. For he was just not an American, though proud he was of that appellation, he was a citizen of humanity… We hear about Gandhi, we talk about Christian values, but no one we know has lived and breathed — it was Jim Clyburn that said it — who was those attributes. Not that he believed in them or talked about, he embodied the best attributes that are in us all.

“We have a short time because time is limited and so many want to speak because they were touched by John Lewis. They were inspired by John Lewis. They were motivated and uplifted by John Lewis. Mr. Speaker, how lucky we are to be able to say: John Lewis was our friend; I knew John Lewis. John Lewis made a personal difference in my life and the life of millions of other people who may not even know the name of John Lewis, but he enriched their lives. He made them freer. He made their country better.

“Mr. Speaker, if I had another hour, or another day, or another week, I would not run out of good things to say about John Lewis. But his life and his contributions need no elevation from me or any others for his life is a book of goodness, of courage, of commitment, of vision, and of great accomplishment. We sing the song ‘God bless America,’ and God blessed America and the world with John Robert Lewis. Thank you, Lord.”

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn

“I thank the gentlelady for yielding me the time. You know, Mr. Speaker, I cringe often when I hear people talk about the 1960s as the Civil Rights Movement. I always put an ‘s’ on that. The Stono Rebellion was in 1739. It was a Civil Rights Movement. Denmark Vesey’s insurrection was 1822. That was a Civil Rights Movement. The Niagara Movement that led to the creation of the NAACP more than 100 years ago was a Civil Rights Movement.

“John Lewis and I met in October 1960, at a Civil Rights Movement. For as long as there are people held in suppression, there will always be a movement for civil rights. However, in any movement there will be a few, sometimes only one, that rises head and shoulders above all others.

“And so it was, with my good friend, John Robert Lewis. When we met the weekend of October 13, 14, 15, 1960, on the campus of Morehouse College, there was a little bit of an insurrection taking place. We, who were college students, felt that we knew how best to do things. We were not listening to Martin Luther King Jr. and a few others. And so, we asked King to meet with us, and he did. We went into the meeting around 10:00 in the evening. We did not walk out of that room until 4:00 the next morning. I came out of that room having had a Saul to Paul transformation. I’ve never been the same since, but listening to King’s plea for nonviolence, I decided, along with most others, to accept nonviolence as a tactic. But not John Lewis—he internalized it. It became his way of life.

“After going through a few issues of the 1960s, you know, John got elected president of SNCC in 1963 and was summarily dethroned in 1966. But John then joined the effort, the Voter Education Project, where he directed the response by the Southern Regional Council. And as he served as director of the Voter Education Project headquartered in Atlanta, I became the chair of the Voter Education Project in Charleston, South Carolina, and we continued that relationship. He got married to a librarian. I got married to a librarian. Though I did so before he did. And they became fast friends. Lillian and Emily became fast friends. I will never, ever get John Robert Lewis out of my system because he succeeded where I failed. It was a tactic for me. It was a way of life for John Lewis.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“The Senate and the nation mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis, a pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism, promote equal rights, and bring our nation into greater alignment with its founding principles.

“Congressman Lewis’ place among the giants of American history was secure before his career in Congress had even begun. This son of sharecroppers in segregated Alabama helped to found and lead the mid-century Civil Rights movement. As a student in Nashville, John organized groundbreaking sit-ins at lunch counters. He was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, assaulted and arrested for insisting on integrated bus travel. And as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, John helped lead and organize the entire March on Washington at age 23 and addressed the massive assembly. John Lewis risked everything. He endured hatred and violence. But he kept working, because he was convinced that our nation had to be better.

“Since 1986, Congressman Lewis brought that same spirit of service to the Capitol. You did not need to agree with John on many policy details to be awed by his life, admire his dedication to his neighbors in Georgia’s Fifth District, or appreciate his generous, respectful, and friendly bearing.

“I will never forget joining hands with John as members of Congress sang We Shall Overcome at a 2008 ceremony honoring his friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It could not have been more humbling to consider what he had suffered and sacrificed so those words could be sung in that place.

“Dr. King famously said ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ But progress is not automatic. Our great nation’s history has only bent towards justice because great men like John Lewis took it upon themselves to help bend it. Our nation will never forget this American hero.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

“On Friday, July 17, after six decades as one of our nation’s most preeminent civil rights leaders, Congressman John Lewis, the “Conscience of Congress,” passed away at the age of 80.

“His trials and tribulations, and ultimately his triumphs, are well known to us all. At the ripe old age of 25, he led thousands of marchers across a bridge in Alabama, risking their lives for their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote, and in so doing, shook the conscience of a nation and hastened the demise of Jim Crow. On that fateful Sunday, battered and bruised, his head dizzy and bleeding from the policeman’s rod, John Lewis found the courage and the strength to reach the other side of that bridge.

“And he never stopped marching.

“From the Freedom Rides to Selma, from his leadership of the SNCC to his four decades in Congress, John Lewis never stopped marching.

“His actions as a young man helped change the trajectory of a nation and brought about the Voting Rights Act, and then John Lewis went to Congress and renewed that law again and again. He sat-in against segregation at lunch counters in the Jim Crow south, and over forty years later, led another sit-in on the House floor against gun violence. He spoke out for marriage equality long before it was popular. He challenged those who walked the corridors of power and then trod those corridors himself to bring quality health care, fair wages, and social justice to Georgians and Americans everywhere.

“It is one thing, inflamed with the passion of youth, to join in brave endeavors and challenge the status quo. And it’s a good thing. But it’s even beyond that to sustain that activism and vision and efforts and – yes, that ‘good trouble’ he talked about getting into – over the steady and persistent dedication of a lifetime.

“But that’s who John Lewis was, deep in his soul: a man on a mission, who forcefully, but gently, led us all to do more and do better; who loved his country so much that he risked his life, and then spent his life, trying to change it.

“We are an imperfect nation, for sure, but we have a tremendous ability to reinvent ourselves. The story of America is one of constant renewal. But that renewal has never been preordained. It is because Americans have pushed and prodded, used their voices and their votes, to force our country to change, and, over time, move ever closer to our highest ideals.

“In the story of America, there are certain heroes whose moral clarity shone out like a beacon for others to follow. North Stars who have inspired their fellow Americans to join them in the glorious work of bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice. John Lewis was one of those special heroes.

“He paved the road, and lit the path, and pointed the way towards other bridges for us to cross. It wasn’t by always being the loudest voice or the most intemperate; he led by the moral force of his example. Whether he would admit it or not, he inspired millions.

“At President Obama’s inauguration, John asked the new president to sign a commemorative photo of the event. President Obama simply wrote: ‘Because of you, John.’ I don’t know how many people must have said that over the years: ‘Because of you, John.’

“And I could never guess at the number who didn’t even know to say it, but whose lives were forever altered, whose dignity and freedom was made whole…because of you, John. As a new generation of young people lift up their voices to proclaim ‘Black Lives Matter,’ to fight for the Justice in Policing Act, the memory and legacy of John Lewis lives on in each and every one of them.

“There are very few people who have truly changed the world for the better. John Lewis is one of them. His life is a reminder of all that is best in us. And all that we are capable of doing that best. As we mourn his loss, I’d ask my fellow Americans, including my colleagues in this body, to take up his mission.

“Many of the old enemies John faced down have not yet been vanquished. Racial disparities persist and gnaw at the fabric of our democracy. So does the police violence that met a young John Lewis and thousands of law-abiding Americans on that bridge over fifty years ago. The bridge he crossed is still named for the Confederate officer and not the man who led a righteous movement for equality. The law he nearly died for has been gutted by the Supreme Court, Congress has the power to restore it, but only one political party seems interested in doing so.

“At the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma, Congressman Lewis acknowledged that his mission was not yet complete: ‘There is still work left to be done,’ he said. “We must use this moment to recommit ourselves to finish the work.’ He told us to: ‘get out there and push and pull until we redeem the soul of America.’

“As we confront our turbulent present: a pernicious disease, vast economic hardship and inequality, the ancient evil of racial injustice—the loss of John Lewis feels even more devastating, and leaves many searching for answers. But John Lewis has already pointed the way. ‘There is still work left to be done,’ he said. ‘Finish the work. Get out there. Push and pull until we redeem the soul of America.’

“May he forever rest in peace.”

Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden

“We are made in the image of God, and then there is John Lewis.

“How could someone in flesh and blood be so courageous, so full of hope and love in the face of so much hate, violence, and vengeance? Perhaps it was the spirit that found John as a young boy in the Deep South dreaming of preaching the social gospel; the work ethic his sharecropper parents instilled in him and that stayed with him; the convictions of nonviolent civil disobedience he mastered from Dr. King and countless fearless leaders in the movement; or the abiding connection with the constituents of Georgia’s 5th District he loyally served for decades.

“Or perhaps it was that he was truly a one-of-a-kind, a moral compass who always knew where to point us and which direction to march.

“It is rare to meet and befriend our heroes. John was that hero for so many people of every race and station, including us. He absorbed the force of human nature’s cruelty during the course of his life, and the only thing that could finally stop him was cancer. But he was not bitter. We spoke to him a few days ago for the final time. His voice still commanded respect and his laugh was still full of joy. Instead of answering our concerns for him, he asked about us. He asked us to stay focused on the work left undone to heal this nation. He was himself – a man at peace, of dignity, grace and character.

“John’s life reminds us that the most powerful symbol of what it means to be an American is what we do with the time we have to make real the promise of our nation – that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally. Through the beatings, the marches, the arrests, the debates on war, peace, and freedom, and the legislative fights for good jobs and health care and the fundamental right to vote, he taught us that while the journey toward equality is not easy, we must be unafraid and never cower and never, ever give up.

“That is the charge a great American and humble man of God has left us. For parents trying to answer their children’s questions about what to make of the world we are in today, teach them about John Lewis. For the peaceful marchers for racial and economic justice around the world who are asking where we go from here, follow his lead. For his fellow legislators, govern by your conscience like he did, not for power or party. He was our bridge – to our history so we did not forget its pain and to our future so we never lose our hope.

“To John’s son, John Miles, and to his family, friends, staff, and constituents, we send you our love and prayers. Thank you for sharing him with the nation and the world.

“And to John, march on, dear friend. May God bless you. May you reunite with your beloved Lillian. And may you continue to inspire righteous good trouble down from the Heavens.”

House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.

“I rise today in remembrance of our friend and colleague John Lewis – the gentleman from Georgia, a great man, a treasure, our brother.

“Congressman Lewis spent his life fighting for justice. When Mr. Lewis spoke he did so with a force and moral clarity.

“He was an original Freedom Rider who embodied what it means to be a humble public servant. John never let anything stand in the way of doing what was right.

“His legacy will continue by the generations of brothers and sisters he inspired to ‘get into good trouble.’

“It was a blessing to have known Congressman Lewis, and I know his light will continue shining bright in the courage and conviction of the American people.

“As we lay our friend to rest, the torch of justice shines bright. Let us honor Congressman Lewis by continuing his fight.

“Rest in power, my friend.”

Rep Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.

“I rise today to mourn, and also to celebrate a historic life. A man I was honored to know, privileged to serve with, and call my friend – Congressman John Lewis – has been called home to God.

“I met Mr. Lewis right after I was elected to Congress. But over the years, I had the pleasure of getting to know him.

“A civil rights icon… A true American hero…

“Too rarely are the most powerful also the most humble, the most caring and the most kind.

“But Mr. Lewis had that rare combination and more… he was the best among us.

“In one moment… he would fearlessly stand in harm’s way to stand up for what is right… and in the next, he wouldn’t hesitate to take a minute to share his insights, lessons and personal stories with those lucky enough to cross his path or to walk into his office.

“In 2015, so many of our colleagues and I joined him for the 50th anniversary of the walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to honor the moment that young John Lewis forever changed our nation.

“As we all gathered to follow in his historic footsteps… the magic and power of John Lewis’ actions on that fateful day in 1965 could be felt by all of us.

“Our country is better… our Congress is better… and I am better… for having known him.

“I will miss you, Mr. Lewis, but I will forever celebrate and honor the impact you made on our nation and on me.”

Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif.

“My prayers are with Congressman John Lewis’ family and loved ones tonight. Rep. Lewis changed the course of our history through his brave activism for civil rights alongside MLK Jr. and continued his unwavering dedication to justice for all in the halls of Congress.

“John Lewis always called me ‘brother.’ A colleague joked that it was because he’d forgotten my name. I wouldn’t care. I was honored. One of the great honors of my life has been to serve as his colleague in the House of Representatives. Caring, generous, inspiring and God-fearing, but not afraid of much else. Famously not afraid even to risk his life to stand up for justice for all. And less well known, the certain voice of right and strength in our caucus.

“I was lucky to introduce my parents to Rep. Lewis in 2017, when he and my father exchanged stories about the civil rights movement. We mourn his passing and will continue to look up to his legacy during these difficult times in our country.

“Rest In Peace, brother. Your love of justice and country will guide us through that good trouble ahead.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“John Lewis was one of the strongest and most effective voices during the Civil Rights era and he maintained a passion for his causes until the very end.

“He lived a consequential life and worked hard to make America a more perfect Union. His voice will be missed.”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.

“John Lewis was on the battlefield of nearly every civil rights fight of the last century. Through it all, regardless of what they did to him, John always walked gracefully with the wind, following the words of Isaiah, “They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

“My friend John Lewis never grew weary, regardless of the fight, even in the face of cancer.

“I’ll never forget the last hug he gave me, when I told him how much he meant to me, how much I appreciated his counsel, and all he did for me, he whispered back, “Just stay strong, my brother.”

“Congressman John Lewis was a legend and an American icon, and his presence will always loom large over the House and our great nation.

“John once said, ‘If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it,’ — and we all need to remember that. I know that I will.”

Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., on behalf of the Blue Dog Coalition of House Democrats

“Congressman John Lewis was an American icon, the conscience of the Congress, a fighter for a more equitable, just, and free society. He demonstrated that although being on the right side of history is not easy, and can be dangerous, it is our moral obligation to stand up and to speak out when we see that something is not right.

“It’s on all of us to live up to John’s legacy: to ‘get in the way,’ and to get into ‘good trouble, necessary trouble,’ using the discipline of nonviolence to move America forward. This year, we saw generations of Americans carry on that legacy in our streets through peaceful protest to fight for equal justice under the law. Although John’s presence will be missed in the halls of Congress, we know the work is not done and his legacy will live on in the generations of Americans he has inspired.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

“I join our nation today in mourning the loss of John Lewis. Congressman Lewis, a champion of justice, relentlessly worked to make the world a more just, fair, and equal place. He was a dear friend who will be missed by everyone who was touched by his influence and inspired by his example. From Selma, where he shed his own blood in confronting violent racism and bigotry in the fight for voting rights, to the halls of Congress, where for more than 33 years he continued his life’s mission to secure an ever more inclusive America, he was a towering moral beacon for all of us.

“Particularly in this moment of national anguish and moral reckoning over racial injustice and other forms of inequality, our nation will sorely miss Congressman Lewis’s voice, a voice that now belongs to the ages. It has been an honor and privilege to work with him on several major pieces of civil rights legislation including the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law that would not have existed without his tireless activism. His early support for the Equality Act provided crucial momentum in ensuring the bill’s passage by the House. And in 2016, he led our colleagues in a sit-in on the House floor to demand that Congress address the scourge of gun violence. He truly was the Conscience of the Congress and of our country.

“My heart goes out to his family, his staff, and his constituents during this difficult time. May his memory be a blessing.”

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

“John Lewis was a legend who helped pave the way for so many of the victories achieved throughout the civil rights movement. As accomplished and revered as he was, he never stopped working to advance the cause of equality and justice for all, even in his final days as he was battling for his own life. I was proud to call John Lewis a friend, and he will be deeply missed. America is a more perfect union because of the blood, sweat, and tears sacrificed by the great John Lewis.”

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

“John’s heroic courage came from principled conviction so deep that it led him to repeatedly risk his life to achieve equal treatment for all Americans. So searing was his example that John was elected chair of SNCC — not because he was strongest but because he was the bravest.

“John’s determination to ‘never give up or give in’ was always leavened by his commitment to non-violence and love.

“In Congress, John Lewis brought the same combination of outspoken opposition on principled matters and reconciliation whenever it could be achieved.

“There will never be another like him.”

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