'A Man of Pure Joy and Unbreakable Perseverance': Barack Obama, Activists and More Pay Their Final Respects to John Lewis

Illustration for article titled 'A Man of Pure Joy and Unbreakable Perseverance': Barack Obama, Activists and More Pay Their Final Respects to John Lewis
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

Civil rights icon and 17-term Georgia congressman John Lewis was mourned and honored Thursday at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church Horizon Sanctuary, where three former U.S. presidents and a number of activists, politicians and distinguished leaders came together to say their final farewells to a hero and ever-vigilant opponent of racism in America.


President Barack Obama delivered an inspiring eulogy in which he described Lewis as “an American whose faith was tested again and again.” He said those tests produced “a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance.”

Obama also spoke about racial equality and challenged politicians to honor Lewis by honoring what he stood for.

George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators,” Obama said. “If politicians want to honor John, let’s revitalize the law that he was willing to die for.”

Obama also called for the elimination of the legislative filibuster—which he called “another Jim Crow relic”—to pass new federal voting laws “in order to secure the God-given rights of every American.”

Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also spoke at Lewis’ funeral.

Bush said that Lewis’ “lesson for us it is that we must all keep ourselves...open to hearing the call of love, the call of service and a call to sacrifice for others.”

“John and I had our disagreements, of course. But in the America John Lewis fought for and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action,” Bush continued. “We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis and his abiding faith in the power of God, in the power of democracy and in the power of love to lift us all to a higher ground. The story that began in Troy isn’t ending here today, nor is the work.”

“He got into a lot of good trouble along the way, but let’s not forget he also developed an absolutely uncanny ability to heal troubled waters,” Clinton said. “When he could have been angry and determined to cancel his adversaries, he tried to get converts instead. He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist.”


Clinton’s speech was very nice until he started taking random, inappropriate shots at civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael (who now goes by Kwame Ture), which The Root’s Stephen A. Crockett Jr. covered here.


Rev. Dr. Bernice King, CEO of the King Center and daughter of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., led attendees in a beautiful prayer to honor Lewis.

From CNN:

“Anoint us with a double portion in this generation to get into good trouble until there is radical reform in policing in our nation. Anoint us a double portion to get into good trouble until voter suppression is no longer a part of our body politic. Anoint us with the double portion to get into good trouble until there is an equitable distribution of wealth in this nation, until everyone has a livable wage and affordable housing and good health care. Anoint us, o God, with a double portion to get into good trouble until all labor is treated with dignity. Grant us, o Father, a double portion to get into good trouble until the school-to-prison pipeline is non-existent and every child gets an equitable education. Grant us, dear god, a double portion to get into good trouble until white supremacy around the world is uprooted and dismantled in all of our policies and everyday practices and behaviors no longer reflect white supremacy. Grant us a double portion, God, to get into good trouble until this nation truly becomes a compassionate nation because as daddy reminded us ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. Grant us, God, a double portion of anointing to get into good trouble until Black bodies are no longer a threat in this world and Black lives have equitable representation power and influence in every arena. Grant us, finally, Father God, that a double portion to get into good trouble until love becomes the way we live, the way we lead, the way we legislate and until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream, thank you, o God, for this great man who lived among us who now joins the great cloud of freedom fighters and, Lord, we thank you for his life and his legacy, and we will continue to get into good trouble as long as you grant us the breath to do so.”


Other speakers included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, and civil rights leader Xernona Clayton, who spoke about how she set Lewis up with his wife Lillian Miles, who died in 2012.

“Lillian was single, and so I decided that Lillian needed a good man, not just the bums who were approaching her,” she said while speaking at Lewis’ funeral. “I wanted her to have someone who really would appreciate her skills and her talent, so I looked around and decided that I liked John. But Lillian didn’t like John, particularly.”

It was a beautiful service that ended with Lewis’ casket being carried out of the church by an honor guard to be taken to his final resting place at Southview Cemetery in Atlanta.


According to CNN, attendees still inside the church as Lewis was being carried out danced to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, which was reportedly a favorite song of Lewis’ and one he was seen dancing to in a viral video.

And yeah, you know we’re about to watch that one, too.

Rest well, John Lewis, and thank you for all you did for Black people and for America.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons



Why do we always have warmongers & war criminals (ex presidents?) attend the funerals of Civil Rights icons like John Lewis? The same thing happened at Coretta Scott King’s funeral. Both of them were advocates of love, peace, and nonviolence, yet......

Not looking for trouble, just curious.