From the heart of the once-segregated South to Washington, D.C., the nation’s final goodbye to Rep. John Lewis reflected the dignity of the sharecropper’s son who became a symbol of moral courage during a lifetime spent getting into “good trouble.”
In Selma, Alabama, the river town where Lewis was beaten by state troopers on “Bloody Sunday” while marching for voting rights in 1965, a pair of dark horses pulled a caisson that carried his flag-draped casket across the Edmund Pettus Bridge one last time. Their polished hooves clip-clopped over a carpet of red rose petals spread atop the hot asphalt.
“Good trouble!” some shouted from the roadside, echoing the phrase Lewis used to describe his confrontations with white segregationists during the civil rights era. Reins in one hand, the driver of the rig stood with a top hat held over his heart.
At the U.S. Capitol, where Lewis spent more than three decades representing Atlanta in the U.S. House, fellow Democrats and Republicans — wearing face masks to prevent spreading the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — joined in a bipartisan tribute in the rotunda.
The size of crowds was kept down by the pandemic and by the smothering heat that caused one member of the honor guard to collapse. Still, people came from all over to honor the man who was sometimes called the “conscience of Congress.”
In a moment that bridged the civil rights movement of decades ago and the protests of today against racial injustice, Lewis’ hearse moved along the street where “BLACK LIVES MATTER” is written in bright yellow paint on a road near the White House.
“I think it was important that he lived to see a resurgence of what he started. Now it’s time to finish it,” said Jay Stegall, an American University graduate student and Atlanta native.
Other events were held in Lewis’ southeast Alabama hometown of Troy and the Alabama Capitol, where the late Gov. George C. Wallace once thundered “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” Lewis’ final stop was at the Georgia Capitol before a private burial service in Atlanta.
Lewis, who was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in December, died July 17 at the age of 80.