The farewell to civil rights icon John Lewis at his Atlanta funeral by "a stick-swinging, Old-Testament Obama" was a rousing, sweeping call to action and tribute to "the ways ordinary people can change the world...America was built by John Lewises.” "This was not the conciliatory, preaching Obama," wrote Charles Pierce. "This was a different Obama (who) brought not peace but the heat, and who personified in his eulogy the proper method of celebrating John Lewis...(He took on) the malignancy in the White House, and the party that made that malignancy inevitable, without ever mentioning any names, situating all of them at the wrong end of the bridge across which the country once followed John Lewis, the one that passes through chaos and gets us to the other side." Time and again, Obama stressed that Lewis' exceptional life "vindicated the faith in our founding," in "that most American of ideas" that ordinary people can come together and "decide that it is in our power to remake this country...What a revolutionary notion, this idea that (a) young kid from Troy can stand up to the powers and principalities, and say: ‘No, this isn’t right, this isn’t true, this isn’t just. We can do better.’”
More soul-stirring yet was Lewis' own farewell as he summoned young people to likewise "answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe." With his usual grace and vision, Lewis chose to pass the baton to the next generation in a final essay he wrote for the New York Times, to be published as he was laid to rest. "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, recalling the hope he felt when, critically ill, he visited Black Lives Matter Plaza in D.C. "I just had to see and feel it for myself," he said, "that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on." He described his coming of political age - "Emmett Till was my George Floyd, my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor" - his realization of the "unholy oppression" waiting outside his family circle, his discovery of Martin Luther King Jr. and the "moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out." "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," he wrote. "Now it is your turn to let freedom ring."
"So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide." - John Lewis.
One of Lewis' over 40 arrests
The smile of knowing you're on the right side of history
Photo by Michael Avedon