Former President Barack Obama delivered a powerful eulogy for Congressman John Lewis. On Thursday, July 30, 2020, the 44th U.S. president shared details of Lewis’ upbringing and rise as a civil rights leader during the ceremony, which took place at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
“I’ve come here today, because I, like so many Americans, owe a great debt to John Lewis and his forceful vision of freedom,” Obama said while speaking to an audience that wore masks and practiced social distancing. “He helped organize the Nashville campaign in 1960. … And after a few months, the Nashville campaign achieved the first successful desegregation of public facilities in any major city in the South. John got a taste of jail for the first, second, third, well, several times. But he also got a taste of victory, and it consumed him with righteous purpose and he took the battle deeper into the South.”
Obama also tackled the ongoing issue of voter suppression that continues to occur today. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated key provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibited states with histories of racial discrimination from changing election laws without first receiving federal approval. Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell tabled legislation that would reinstate those elements in 2019.
“Even as we sit here, those in power are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting. If all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do,” Obama said.
Obama also discussed police brutality against Black people.
“Bull Connor may be gone, but today we witness, with our own eyes, police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans,” he said, alluding to the Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on George Floyd. “George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.”
On Friday, July 17, Lewis, who represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for more than three decades in the U.S. House of Representatives, died from pancreatic cancer after being in hospice care in Atlanta. He was 80.
In March 1965, a then-25-year-old Lewis spearheaded a peaceful march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. It became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
In 2010, Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2015, he joined the congressman in Selma to pay homage to those who fought racial oppression on “Bloody Sunday.”