John Lewis: civil rights leader’s body arrives at US Capitol to lie in state


The body of the late John Lewis arrived in the Rotunda of the US Capitol, where he will lie in state as lawmakers pay tribute to the longtime Georgia lawmaker and leader of the civil rights movement.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, led a delegation to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to greet Lewis’s flag-draped casket. The motorcade stopped at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House as it wound through Washington before arriving at the Capitol, where the late congressman becomes the first black lawmaker to lie in state in the Rotunda.

As with others afforded the honor, Lewis’s casket rested on the catafalque built for Abraham Lincoln’s funeral in 1865.

Pelosi and others will attend a private ceremony in the Rotunda before Lewis’s body is moved to the steps on the Capitol’s east side for a public viewing, an unusual sequence required because the Covid-19 pandemic has closed the Capitol to the public. Inside the Rotunda and outdoors, signs welcomed visitors with a reminder that masks would be required.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, was expected to pay his respects. The pair became friends over two decades on Capitol Hill together and Biden’s two terms as vice-president to Barack Obama, the first black president who awarded Lewis the presidential medal of freedom in 2011.

Notably absent from the ceremonies was Donald Trump, who publicly jousted with Lewis. Lewis once called Trump an an illegitimate president and chided him for stoking racial discord. Trump countered by blasting Lewis’s Atlanta district as “crime-infested”. Trump said he would not go to the Capitol, but Mike Pence was scheduled to pay his respects later on Monday.

Just ahead of the ceremonies, the House passed a bill to establish a new federal commission to study conditions that affect black men and boys.

Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Karen Bass of California, were seen sporting “Good Trouble” face masks, a nod to one of Lewis’s favorite sayings.

The tributes were the latest in a series of public remembrances for the 80-year-old Alabama native who helped lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights era.

The son of sharecroppers, Lewis was among the original Freedom Riders, a group of young activists who boarded commercial buses and traveled through the segregated Jim Crow south. They were assaulted and battered along the way, by both citizens and authorities. Lewis was the youngest and last-living of the featured speakers for the March on Washington in 1963, where the Rev Martin Luther King Jr delivered his I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

In Selma, Alabama, on 7 March 1965, Lewis suffered a beating at the hands of an Alabama state trooper. He was at the head of hundreds of protesters who attempted to march to the Alabama capitol to demand access to the voting booth.

The marchers completed the journey weeks later under the protection of federal authorities. Lyndon B Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on 6 August of that year.

Lewis spoke of those critical months for the rest of his life as he championed voting rights, and he returned to Selma many times for commemorations at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

“The vote is precious. It is almost sacred,” he said. “It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.”

Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the last time on Sunday, on a horse-drawn carriage before a hearse transported him to the Alabama capitol, where he lay in repose, becoming one of the few citizens who was not a former governor to have such an honor. He was escorted by state troopers, this time with black officers in their ranks.

Lewis will have a private funeral on Thursday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist church, which King once led.


News – John Lewis: civil rights leader’s body arrives at US Capitol to lie in state


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