When John Lewis was a teen growing up in segregated Alabama, he would scan the dial of an old radio only to be hypnotized by the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr.
On Thursday, Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders and the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963, will return to the historic church to be celebrated, mourned and loved before his body is laid to rest.
Lewis died July 17; he was 80.
Former President Barack Obama is expected to address those gathered and former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush will also be in attendance.
Before Lewis died, he wrote one last piece on the fight for civil rights, which would become his life’s work, and asked that the New York Times publish it on the day of his funeral.
“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me,” he wrote. “You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.”
Lewis referenced the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent death of George Floyd, who was killed when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes. He encouraged the movement to continue the work that he started and asked that his life be a testament to making good trouble.
“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life, I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring,” he wrote.
The service is not open to the public due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, but it will be live-streamed in the video above beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET.