Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Gov. Brian Kemp and state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, spoke at the memorial service at the Georgia State Capitol Wednesday after the body of Congressman John Lewis arrived to lie in state.
Before their speeches in the rotunda, the three began the ceremony outside, waiting on the steps as an honor guard removed Lewis’ casket from the hearse and began to carry the body of the congressman inside. He was to lie in state overnight ahead of his funeral Thursday at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Bottoms, who called Lewis “an Alabama legend, an Atlanta icon and an American hero,” said she has had a deep and abiding admiration for John Lewis her entire life and she remembered Lewis’ late wife, Lillian, coming to her mother’s salon to get her hair done. She told the story of her aunt Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, who worked with Lewis in the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee. She died at the age of 26.
“Each time I saw the congressman, his eyes glistened with tears when he spoke of her. He told me stories of being beaten with her and going to jail together in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He always made sure to ask about her son,” Bottoms said.
Kemp told Lewis’ family that 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.”
Smyre, the “dean” of the Georgia House of Representatives, spoke of a personal connection to his own career in elective office. “Having been elected in 1974, over 46 years ago, brings to mind the events of March 7, 1965, Bloody Sunday,” he said. “John paid a heavy personal price on the Selma to Montgomery march as he was badly beaten and thought he had died. It was because of his courage, commitment to the struggle and getting in good trouble that gave me and many others the opportunity to seek public office. "
Here is the text of the speech by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
"Some 85 years ago, the great Langston Hughes wrote of the promise and pain of America.
"'Let America be America again
"'Let it be the dream it used to be
"'Let it be the pioneer on the plain
"'Seeking a home where he himself is free.
"'America never was America to me.
"'Let America be the dream that dreamers dreamed.
"'Let it be that great strong land of love
"'Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
"'That any man be crushed by one above.
"'It never was America to me.
"'Oh, let my land be a land where Liberty
"'Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath
"'But opportunity is real and life is free
"'Equality is in the air we breathe.'
"Some five years after these words were written, a descendant of the enslaved, a son of sharecroppers was born and the words of the Lord rested upon his life.
“‘Before I formed you, I knew you in the womb. Before you were born, I sanctified you, I ordained you a prophet to the nations.'
"And this prophet, our prophet, called upon America to be America again. And so we gather here today, in what was once a stronghold of the Confederacy, together, because this prophet lived, and this prophet named John Lewis loved.
"Like so many I have a deep and abiding admiration for Congressman Lewis, and I've had it my entire life. I would see his lovely wife Lillian when she came into my mother's hair salon to have her hair done. She was a beautiful and brilliant woman whose love and affection for John-Miles was evident in every conversation that she had.
"I knew Congressman Lewis as the man who worked in SNCC with my Aunt Ruby Doris Smith Robinson. She died at age 26, leaving a 2-year-old son behind. Each time I saw the Congressman, his eyes glistened with tears when he spoke of her.
"He told me stories of being beaten with her and going to jail together in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He always made sure to ask about her son, Toure.
"Although an Alabama legend, an Atlanta icon and an American hero, Congressman Lewis could take time to let me know, to let all of us know, that we mattered to him.
"And so I don't think it was happenstance that in his final public appearance, he visited the Black Lives Matters mural in Washington, D.C., and it was around this same time that I joined him on a Zoom call with President Obama and the Obama Foundation, For My Brother's Keeper. Until his last days, he was calling upon America to be America again in his words and his deeds.
"I was deeply moved a couple of days ago when his chief of staff Michael Collins shared with me that the Congressman was intently watching the news of Atlanta and proud of the leadership that's been shown. And so governor, when the good trouble continues, know that it is with the blessings of Congressman Lewis.
"And although the fight for liberty and equality continues, Congressman Lewis reminded us to be hopeful, to be optimistic and to never lose a sense of hope.
"'Oh let America be America again
The land that never has been yet
And yet must be the land where every man is free.‘”
Here is the text of speech by Gov. Brian Kemp
“Today, Marty, the girls, and I join countless Georgians and Americans in mourning the loss of Congressman John Lewis – a titan of the Civil Rights Movement, a beloved Georgian, an American hero, and a friend to all who sought a better, fairer, and more united society.
“Congressman John Lewis changed our country in profound and immeasurable ways, and his legacy of passionate service is truly unmatched. As mentioned, the son of sharecroppers, John Lewis felt his calling at a young age and devoted every waking moment to the fight for justice, equality, access, and opportunity for all people – no matter their skin color. He built quite a reputation along the way, and the ‘good trouble’ that led to real change inspired a country and changed this world. 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.
“At home in the 5th District, this legendary freedom fighter was a friendly neighborhood face, serving his constituents selflessly and with open arms. In our country’s most trying moments, Congressman John Lewis taught us the lesson of joyful, steadfast commitment to ideals bigger than one man or one movement. When faced with fierce, violent opposition on a bridge in Selma, Alabama, John Lewis stared evil and injustice in the eye. He didn’t turn back that Sunday, because he was grounded in a deep belief that our worth was given by God – not by man.
“His example taught us that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by working together and loving one another. And even today, as our country faces a public health crisis and new challenges rooted in injustice, I know that the example left behind by Congressman Lewis, the man who literally crossed the aisle to embrace retiring Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, will inspire all of us to do the hard, necessary work to overcome our shared challenges and emerge stronger.
“The congressman put it best by saying, ‘We love our country, we love our democratic society, so we have to move our feet.’ As we mourn his passing, we should all recommit ourselves to the principles he fought for: our country’s core foundation in liberty, freedom, and justice for all. America and the State of Georgia will be forever stronger, freer, and more just because of Congressman John Lewis, but we must do our part to build on his work and keep his legacy alive.
“He urged us to love one another, to walk and work together – despite our differences, and push our state and nation toward a better tomorrow. His leadership in the Civil Rights Movement and more than 30-year career in public service embodied our highest ideals, and we are each – as Georgians and Americans – better for his work. So now – in honor of his memory – we have to ‘move our feet.’
“May his words, actions, and legacy continue to serve as our country’s conscience. The prayers of my family and all Georgians are with Congressman Lewis’ family, his loved ones, his staff who worked so hard on his behalf, and all those he inspired. God bless you all, and may God continue to bless our great state and nation.”
Text of speech by State Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus
“To the family of John Robert Lewis, welcome to the rotunda of the Georgia State Capitol where on today, we pay our final respects and show our admiration to a fallen hero and often called ‘the conscience of the Congress’ and to bid him farewell. We hurt inside and mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis, yet we cherish the life he lived and the contributions he made to humanity. We thank him for his sacrifices and all that he gave that others would enjoy a better life. He was a fearless warrior in real life.
“We all have stories of his personal charm, his greatness, his many struggles and the strength of his character. A giant redwood tree has fallen in the Georgia forest of life.
“Having been elected in 1974, over 46 years ago, brings me in my mind to the events of March 7, 1965, Bloody Sunday. John paid a personal heavy price on the Selma to Montgomery march as he was badly beaten and thought he had died. It was because of his endless courage, his commitment to the struggle and getting in good trouble that gave me and many others the opportunity to seek public office. History records that it was the events of that dreaded day that led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which propelled and opened the way for African Americans to seek public office and bring needed change in creating good public policy which determines our quality of life. He always stated that voting was so precious. People died for our right to vote.
“John Lewis, the son of a sharecropper, was told, ‘Don’t get in the way, and don’t get in trouble.’ He was inspired by Rosa Parks whom he met at 17 years old and a year later, meeting Martin Luther King Jr. at 18 years of age. Those two people inspired John Lewis to get in the way and find necessary good trouble.
“In the emotional John Lewis speech that was played during the U.S. Capitol memorial, which brought tears to my eyes, he gave and left us a mandate: a mandate to stand up, speak up and speak out, a mandate to find a way to get in the way and make our state and country a better place. ‘Keep the faith, we not going back, we are going forward,’ he stated. We must keep the faith and that’s our moral obligation. Never become bitter; never hate; we are one people. There may be some setbacks, but we must always keep the faith. Never give up; never give up; that’s our calling.
“John, in your memory and as a legacy, you will continue to motivate us, inspire us and be a solid source of strength. You will be missed, but we will cherish the memories and the moments. You left us with many challenges to seek answers and certain principles to guide us. Your mark on America is forever established and recorded.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that, ‘If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.’ John Robert Lewis found something he would die for: freedom, oh freedom. The loss of John Lewis reminds us to never be afraid of where we are going when we know God is going with us. God be with you, John Robert Lewis. Job well done, thy faithful servant. Job well done.
“Our closing prayer: Lord of all, we praise you for all who have entered into their rest and reached the Promised Land where you are seen face to face. Lord, give us grace to follow in their footsteps as they follow in the way of your son. Thank you for the memory of those you have called to yourself: by each memory, turn our hearts from things seen to things unseen, and lead us till we come to the eternal rest you have prepared for your people, through your name we pray. Amen.”
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