Honoring a Nation’s ‘Conscience’: How Will Lawmakers Pay Tribute to Rep. John Lewis’ Legacy?

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It is hard to sum up civil rights icon and longtime congressman John Lewis’ legacy—much less find suitable ways of honoring it. But as the country grapples with losing one of its most esteemed public servants, ideas have poured forth on how to properly pay tribute to the life and deeds of a man frequently referred to as the “conscience of Congress.”

Among them is pushing to fully restore voting rights, a cause Lewis championed throughout his life as an activist and lawmaker. He was a major advocate of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.


“They’re saying, in effect, that history cannot repeat itself. But I say, come and walk in my shoes,” Lewis said at the time of the high court’s decision.

Lewis’ Democratic colleagues say the late congressman must be honored with the passage of new, more robust protections against voter suppression. This weekend, Democratic lawmakers Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) called for the passage of Voting Rights Advancement Act, which restores the protections lost in 2013, reports The Washington Post.


“It should be the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020,” Clyburn said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “That’s the way to do it. Words may be powerful, but deeds are lasting.”

“What we have to do is live up to his legacy. We need to continue that fight for social justice. And again, the first thing we need to do is to pass the voting rights act and get it signed,” Bass told ABC’s “This Week.”


As NPR notes, when the Democrat-controlled House passed the legislation in Dec. 2019, Lewis announced the tally.


Lewis’ passing has also renewed demands to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., upon which Lewis marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help advance Black voting rights.

Pettus was a Confederate general and a grand general of the Ku Klux Klan.

A petition calling on Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to rename the bridge after Lewis began circulating last month. As of Monday morning, the petition had more than 575,000 signatures.


In a letter addressed to U.S. congressional representatives on Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will honor Lewis with a moment of silence, reports ABC News. Her letter added that the Lewis family will announce plans for “John’s farewell” later in the week.

Some in Congress would like to see Lewis, who served for three decades as a congressman representing Georgia, lie in state at the Capitol. But as The New York Times reports, that desire is complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which requires public officials to manage large crowds and gatherings to prevent further spread of the deadly disease.


Congressman Elijah Cummings, who died last year, was the first Black lawmaker to receive this honor.

Rep. Bass, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, also called for flags to be lowered to half-mast until Lewis is laid to rest. WABE Atlanta reports that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms declared the city’s flags will be flown at half-mast for Lewis indefinitely.