Jul 30, 2020

By JEFF MARTIN Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — When John Lewis is mourned, revered and celebrated at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Thursday, he returns to a sacred place imbued with civil rights history.

The arc of Lewis’ legacy of activism will once again be tied to Ebenezer’s former pastor Martin Luther King Jr., whose sermons Lewis discovered while scanning the radio dial as a 15-year-old boy growing up in then-segregated Alabama.

John Lewis
Congressman John Lewis poses in his Atlanta office with two of his favorite items from his collection of memorabilia from his younger days as a civil rights activist in the 1960s. He is holding a Life Magazine cover picturing the famous Selma march in 1965. (He is in this photo at front of the line of marchers.) He is also holding a photo of the ‘Big Six’ civil rights leaders of the time to plan for the famous March on Washington. The men in the photo are L to R: John Lewis, Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, Martin Luther King, James Farmer, and Roy Wilkins. In background photos (picture at left) of Dr. Martin Luther King with Fred Shuttlesworth and Ralph Abernathy and Lewis with Robert Kennedy (picture at right). (Kimberly Smith/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

King continued to inspire Lewis’ civil rights work for the next 65 years as he fought segregation during sometimes bloody marches, Greyhound bus “Freedom Rides” across the South and later during his long tenure in the U.S. Congress.

Lewis died July 17 at age 80.

El ataúd con los restos del representante John Lewis pasa por el puente Edmund Pettus en una carroza tirada por caballos durante un servicio en su honor, el domingo 26 de julio de 2020, en Selma, Alabama. (AP Foto/John Bazemore)

When Lewis was 15, he heard King’s sermons on WRMA, a radio station in Montgomery, Alabama, he recalled in an interview for the Southern Oral History Program.

“Later I saw him on many occasions in Nashville while I was in school between 1958 and ’61,” Lewis said. “In a sense, he was my leader.”

King was “the person who, more than any other, continued to influence my life, who made me who I was,” Lewis wrote in his 1998 autobiography, “Walking with the Wind.”

By the summer of 1963, Lewis was addressing thousands of people during the March on Washington, speaking shortly before King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. He spoke then about Black people beaten by police and jailed — themes that resonate vividly in today’s times.

Family members follow the body of Rep. John Lewis making the final crossing over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the historic 1965 voting rights marches, on Sunday, July 26, 2020 in Selma, Ala. The congressman from Georgia and civil rights icon died July 17 at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

“My friends, let us not forget that we are involved in a serious social revolution,” Lewis told the huge crowd on the Washington Mall.

“To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we have long said that we cannot be patient,” he added. “We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again.”

Marcus Sharp, left, and Justin Mayes spread rose petals representing blood shed on the bridge for the final crossing of Rep. John Lewis over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the historic 1965 voting rights marches, on Sunday, July 26, 2020 in Selma, Ala. The congressman from Georgia and civil rights icon died July 17 at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.(Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

In 1965, Lewis was beaten by Alabama state troopers in the city of Selma in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

Last Sunday, his casket was carried across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The wagon rolled over a carpet of rose petals on the bridge that spans the Alabama River. On the south side of the bridge, where Lewis was attacked by the law officers, family members placed red roses that the carriage rolled over, marking the spot where Lewis spilled his blood and suffered a head injury.

A carriage carrying the body of Rep. John Lewis finishes the final crossing over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the historic 1965 voting rights marches, on Sunday, July 26, 2020 in Selma. The congressman from Georgia and civil rights icon died July 17 at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Lewis was later awarded the Medal of Freedom by the nation’s first Black president in 2011.

Jaquenette Ferguson from Oxon Hill, Md., gestures as she gets her picture taken beside a portrait of the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., near the East Front Steps of the U.S. the Capitol, Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

He spent more than three decades in Congress, and his district included most of Atlanta.

On Monday, a memorial service at the U.S. Capitol in Washington drew congressional leaders from both parties. Lewis was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. On Wednesday he was lauded as a warrior and hero during a ceremony at the Georgia Capitol, where people paid their final respects to the civil rights icon in one of the last memorials.

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Jill Biden, pause by the flag-draped casket of the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga, as he lies in state at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 27, 2020. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

Lewis was a member of Ebenezer, and its senior pastor, The Rev. Raphael Warnock, will officiate his funeral Thursday.

“It was my honor to serve as pastor to John Lewis, a man of faith and a true American patriot who selflessly risked life and limb in the sacred cause of truth-telling and justice-making in the world,” Warnock said in a statement before the funeral.

A mourner pauses by the casket of Rep. John Lewis lying in repose at the state capital, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Atlanta. Lewis, who carried the struggle against racial discrimination from Southern battlegrounds of the 1960s to the halls of Congress, died Friday, July 17, 2020. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

“He was wounded for America’s transgressions, crushed for our iniquities and by his bruises we are healed,” Warnock added. “Today we weep. Tomorrow we continue the work of healing that was his life’s work.”

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