Rep. John Lewis Honored as ‘The Conscience of the Congress’ in Capitol Ceremony

July 28, 2020 by Rep. John Lewis Honored as ‘The Conscience of the Congress’ in Capitol Ceremony July 28, 2020by Tia Mitchell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)
Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) pays her respects to Rep. John Lewis following a memorial service in the Rotunda of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, July 27, 2020. (Shawn Thew/pool/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

 

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. John Lewis is now the first African American to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, an honor bestowed upon the man who colleagues regard as “the conscience of the Congress.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke briefly during an hourlong memorial service attended by members of Lewis’ family, invited members of the U.S. House and Senate and staff members. But she turned over the microphone to Lewis himself, playing audio of his keynote address at Emory University’s 2014 commencement ceremony.

“You must find a way to get in the way,” Lewis’ voice bellowed from loud speakers. “You must find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble.”

The events in Washington mark the third and fourth days of a six-day “celebration of life” in Lewis’ honor. The Atlanta Democrat served in the House for nearly 34 years; he died July 17 at age 80.

President Donald Trump told reporters earlier Monday that he would not make the trip to the Capitol to pay respects to Lewis. The two had an antagonistic relationship, and Lewis considered Trump an illegitimate president.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, were among the final guests to approach the casket while it rested in the Rotunda.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia said he first learned about Lewis’ civil rights work as a child and later was honored to call him a colleague. His death leaves a void that will be impossible to replace, Perdue said prior to the ceremony.

“His life will be remembered as one of integrity and courage, and it’s just a hole,” he said. “Nobody will replace John Lewis. We’ll fill the seat, and we’ll move on. But he was just one of a kind.”

During the ceremony, House and Senate leaders placed identical wreaths with red, white and blue flowers. Audience members dabbed their eyes as Wintley Phipps sang a solemn rendition of “Amazing Grace” followed by “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Prior to the Capitol ceremony, Lewis was driven by hearse from Joint Base Andrews on a route that included landmarks such as Black Lives Matter Plaza, where made his final public appearance; the Lincoln Memorial where he spoke at the March on Washington in 1963; and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which Lewis dedicated years to creating and building.

Monday evening, Lewis’ casket was moved outside to the East Plaza Steps for a public viewing, a change in location compelled by the coronavirus pandemic that closed the Capitol buildings to visitors. The public visitation will continue Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Lewis will be moved to Atlanta on Wednesday, where he will lie in state at the Georgia Capitol. His funeral will be Thursday morning at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

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©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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