Congressional Leaders Pay Respects to John Lewis at Capitol


In a solemn display of bipartisan unity, congressional leaders praised Rep. John Lewis as a moral force for the nation in a Capitol Rotunda memorial service.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Lewis the “conscience of the Congress” who was “revered and beloved on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of the Capitol.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the longtime Georgia congressman as a model of courage and a “peacemaker.”

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” McConnell, a Republican, said Monday, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.

“But that is never automatic. History only bent toward what’s right because people like John paid the price.”

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Lewis died July 17 at the age of 80. Born to sharecroppers during Jim Crow segregation, he spoke ahead of King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech and was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Dozens of lawmakers looked on Monday as Lewis’ flag-draped casket sat atop the catafalque built for President Abraham Lincoln.

Following the Rotunda service, Lewis’ body was moved to the steps on the Capitol’s east side in public view.

Late into the night, a long line of visitors formed outside the Capitol as members of the public quietly came to pay their respects to Lewis.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence paid their respects on Monday afternoon.

Born near Troy, Alabama, Lewis was among the original Freedom Riders, young activists who boarded commercial passenger buses and traveled through the segregated Jim Crow South in the early 1960s.

He was at the head of hundreds of civil rights protesters who attempted to march from Selma, Alabama, to the State Capitol in Montgomery in 1965.

The marchers completed the journey weeks later under the protection of federal authorities, but then-Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, an outspoken segregationist at the time, refused to meet the marchers when they arrived at the Capitol.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on Aug. 6 of that year.

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Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the last time on Sunday in a horse-drawn carriage before an automobile hearse transported him to the Alabama Capitol, where he lay in repose. He was escorted by Alabama state troopers.

After the memorial in Washington, Lewis’s body will return to Georgia. He will have a private funeral on Thursday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which King once led.

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