Civil rights advocate Rep John Lewis became the first Black politician to lie in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday when his body was brought to the US Capitol for the final time. Lewis, who died on 17th July following a nearly eight-month battle with pancreatic cancer, was driven through Washington, DC, as part of his procession, his casket pausing at the Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials and at the newly painted Black Lives Matter Plaza. Previously, it was driven through the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where he was severely beaten during the Bloody Sunday confrontation of 1965. The resulting injury was a fractured skull.
Lewis’ body will lie in state on Monday and Tuesday.
Lewis, who represented Georgia's 5th District for the last 33 years, was eulogised by politicians during a ceremony in the Rotunda on Monday, with figures including House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus in attendance. Many attendees proudly wore masks that read “Good Trouble” — which Lewis always urged those looking to make a change in the world to get into — and “vote” on them. Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden was also expected to be in attendance.
Lewis’ lifelong dedication to civil rights has led not only to his life’s work being publicly celebrated, but the enactment of changes within different systems. People have rallied behind the idea of renaming the aforementioned Edmund Pettus Bridge, named after a known Confederate soldier and Ku Klux Klan grand dragon, after Lewis for his contributions to history. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn and House Majority Whip announced on Monday legislation to rename the voting rights bill HR 4 after John Lewis. It was successfully passed by the House. Lewis’ impact will also be felt in the education system. Robert E Lee High School in Springfield, VA, was officially renamed John Lewis High School on 23rd July, a change that will be enacted at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
Lewis has been honoured and mourned by politicians in the days since his death. “John Lewis once said, 'You cannot be afraid to speak up and speak out for what you believe,'" Sen. Harris tweeted in remembrance on 18th July, the day after Lewis’ death. "'You have to have courage, raw courage.' In his memory, let's continue to speak out against injustice and have the courage to make #GoodTrouble."
Georgia Rep Sanford Bishop reflected not only on Lewis’ life, but their five decades of friendship. “The world is a better place because John Lewis spent his life in pursuit of freedom, justice, opportunity, and peace for all of humanity,” Bishop tweeted on 18th July. “[...] He inspired us as colleagues as the ‘conscience’ of the Congress and I am blessed to have called him my friend for over 52 years. To say John will be missed is an understatement.”
Florida Rep Val Demings thought back on how hard Lewis was willing to fight for his equality in the US, writing in a press release that “I was in awe in the ‘60s and am still in awe today of the man who was larger than life. Mr. John Lewis was strong as a lion, yet gentle as [a] dove. He loved America and was willing to work hard and sacrifice to make it a better place. In the dark and difficult days, he reminded us to protect our inner light, maintain our hope and our spirit; that only despair can impede the cause of justice.”