Civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis was honored Wednesday at the state Capitol in Atlanta following his death earlier this month at age 80.
His casket lay in state in the rotunda of the Gold Dome for a ceremony presided over by state officials and a public viewing set to last through the evening. A funeral service will be held Thursday morning at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the congregation once co-led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Lewis was an early admirer and colleague of King, who together with many other prominent civil rights leaders brought non-violent protest to bear against segregation in the 1960s.
In Selma, Ala., Lewis led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge where he and others were beaten by police in the event known as “Bloody Sunday.”
His example helped push through passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting and paving the way for more political inclusion by Black Americans.
Lewis died on July 17 after a seven-month battle with cancer.
“A giant redwood tree has fallen in the Georgia forest of life,” said state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, who is the Georgia General Assembly’s longest serving member.
Born near Troy, Ala., to sharecropper parents, Lewis led lunch-counter boycotts as a student in Nashville, chaired the influential Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was among the original Freedom Riders who protested segregation on public buses.
He moved to Atlanta in the late 1960s and served on the Atlanta City Council before winning election to the 5th Congressional District in 1986. He held his seat in Congress for more than 30 years, becoming one of the body’s most respected voices.
“Congressman Lewis laid down his life for all of us and he taught us to get in good trouble,” said state Rep. Karen Bennett, D-Stone Mountain, who chairs the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.
Lewis was a staunch advocate for voting rights and racial justice. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recalled that his final public appearance was in support of protesters at the Black Lives Matter mural in Washington, D.C.
“Until his last days, he was calling upon America to be America again in his words and in his deeds,” Bottoms, a Democrat, said Wednesday at the Capitol.
Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, noted Lewis’ ability to bridge conflict between political parties, symbolized by his embracing retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson on the House floor last December before Isakson stepped down.
“No matter where you go, everyone knows the name of John Lewis, and more importantly, they know his record of standing up, speaking out, and shaking up the status quo,” Kemp said Wednesday.
Lewis’ casket arrived in Atlanta after two days of lying in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, which is among the country’s highest honors for a departed leader.
The casket of Lewis’ friend and fellow civil rights leader Rev. C.T. Vivian also lay in state at the Georgia Capitol building last week. Vivian died at age 95 on the same day as Lewis.