ATLANTA — John Lewis was lauded as a warrior and hero during a ceremony Wednesday at the Georgia Capitol, where the civil rights icon who represented much of Atlanta in Congress will lie in repose in one of the last memorials before he is buried.
Referencing the poem by Langston Hughes, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Lewis called on “America to be America again.”
“And so we gather here today in what was once a stronghold of the Confederacy together because this prophet lived and this prophet named John Lewis loved,” she said.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp called Lewis a “beloved Georgian, an American hero and a friend to all who sought a better, fairer, more united society.”
“And even today, as our country faces a public health crisis and new challenges rooted in injustice, I know that the example left behind by Congressman Lewis ... will inspire all of us to do the hard necessary work to overcome our shared challenges and emerge stronger,” Kemp said.
People lined the streets as the hearse carrying Lewis' body moved through downtown. It stopped briefly in front of a mural of Lewis with the word “Hero” before arriving at the state Capitol, where it was met by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Members of the public later filed into the state Capitol rotunda to pay their respects to Lewis, pausing to take photographs in front of his flag-draped coffin. A private burial service in Atlanta is scheduled for Thursday.
Bottoms recalled that Lewis’ wife would visit her mother’s salon and said she was deeply moved when the congressman’s chief of staff told her a couple of days ago that Lewis was watching news of Atlanta and proud of its leadership.
Bottoms recently defied Kemp and required people to wear masks during the coronavirus outbreak, prompting a lawsuit from Kemp. The two have also clashed over the governor’s decision to mobilize the National Guard in the city earlier this month after a weekend of gun violence left five people dead, including an 8-year-old girl.
Bottoms seemed to reference the fights in recalling Lewis’ praise, echoing his signature advice to get into “good trouble.”
“And so, governor, when the good trouble continues, know that it is with the blessings of Congressman Lewis,” she said to applause.
Wednesday’s service is part of a series of public remembrances for Lewis that began over the weekend.
A memorial service at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Monday drew congressional leaders from both parties. Lewis was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday, his flag-draped casket was carried down the Capitol steps and placed in a hearse as people watched solemnly, many with their hands on their hearts.
On Sunday, his casket was carried across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where the one-time “Freedom Rider” was among civil rights demonstrators beaten by state troopers in 1965.
Lewis died July 17 at the age of 80. Born to sharecroppers during Jim Crow segregation, he was beaten by Alabama state troopers during the civil rights movement, spoke ahead of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the nation’s first Black president in 2011.