John Lewis came home Wednesday.

Credit: Ryon Horne

His casket was greeted by mourners who thronged stops for the processional from Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta to the Georgia State Capitol building, where the mayor called Lewis a prophet who was deeply loved.

In her emotional tribute, Keisha Lance Bottoms read the poetry of Langston Hughes and told stories about her late aunt who died at the age of 26, but was beaten and jailed with Lewis when they were members of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement.

She played off of Gov. Brian Kemp’s earlier eulogy of the Georgia congressman, after Kemp said Lewis’ “good trouble” led to “real change, inspired a country and changed the world.”

The governor and mayor have been in a heated battle, with Kemp suing Bottoms over her requirement that people in the city must wear masks when out.

Bottoms said it wasn’t happenstance that Lewis’ final public appearance, about a month before he died, was a visit to the Black Lives Matter Mural in Washington.

“Until his last days, he was calling upon America to be America again in his words and his deeds,” Bottoms said, adding that she received word that Lewis had been watching Atlanta leadership and was proud of how she was handling the COVID-19 crisis, peaceful protests and racial unrest.

“And so, governor, when the ‘good trouble’ continues, know that it is with the blessings of Congressman Lewis,” Bottoms said to applause. “Although the fight for liberty and equality continues, Congressman Lewis reminded us to be hopeful, optimistic, and to never lose a sense of hope.”

July 29, 2020 Atlanta - Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms remarks as Congressman John Lewis lies in state in the Georgia Capitol Rotunda during ÒHonoring the Life and Legacy of Congressman John Robert LewisÓ ceremony on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (Hyosub Shin /


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Lewis died July 17 at the age of 80. His funeral will be held at Ebenezer Baptist Church Thursday at 11 a.m. A source told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that President Barack Obama will speak. He will be buried at South-View Cemetery next to his wife, Lillian, who died in 2012.

With Thursday’s services being private, Wednesday was reserved for the masses. Among them, some have followed him since his days as a firebrand civil rights leader and others remember him as a trailblazing member of Congress, where he represented Atlanta and environs. All of them were drawn by Lewis’ humbleness and kindness.

“I was born in 1955, so in ’65, I was 10,” said mourner Patsy Norwood-Burton, referring to Bloody Sunday, when Lewis was savagely beaten trying to lead marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. “So that was all I knew — Martin (Luther King Jr.) and John and Hosea (Williams) and Joseph Lowery and David Abernathy. There are so many doors that opened up for me because of them. So I am so grateful.”

After leaving Dobbins Air Reserve Base, where Lewis’ family and Lewis’ body arrived from Washington, the processional’s first stop was at the Rainbow Crosswalk at 10th & Piedmont in Midtown, a memorial to Atlanta’s LGBTQ population. Lewis compared the struggle for the equal treatment of LGBTQ people to his work on the front lines of the civil rights movement.

Rep. John Lewis' casket and motorcade pauses along Auburn Ave near Jesse Hill Jr Drive in front of the Hero mural where Karren Grant, of Peachtree Corners, left, pays respect to the Congressman and his family on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

All along the processional route, people cried or cheered when the hearse carrying his flag-draped casket passed. Many rushed to take a fleeting photo. Others stood with their right fists in the air. Others sang.

Arriving at the Capitol, an honor guard carefully removed Lewis’ casket from the hearse while a growing crowd cheered. Standing at the steps of the Capitol to greet the body were Kemp and his wife, Bottoms, and Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), who called Lewis a “fearless warrior.”

“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,” Smyre said. “You left us with many challenges to seek answers and certain principles to guide us. Your mark on America is forever established and recorded.”

Kemp, who presented the Lewis family with a Georgia flag, said as the country mourns the passing of Lewis, everyone should recommit to the principles he fought for: liberty, freedom, and justice for all.

“His example taught us that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by working together and loving one another,” Kemp said. “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 us all to do the hard, necessary work to overcome our shared challenges and emerge stronger.”

7/29/20 - Atlanta, GA - Georgia First Lady Mary Kemp (from left), Gov. Brian Kemp, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, State Rep. Calvin Smyre, lead the body of Rep. John Lewis into the state capitol.  On the fifth day of the “Celebration of Life” for Rep. John Lewis, Lewis’s body and and family members returned to Georgia for ceremonies at the State Capitol where he will also lie in state until his funeral on Thursday.  Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer

After the brief public ceremony, the doors were opened to begin seven hours of public mourning.

The viewing at the Capitol, where Lewis was only the fourth Black person to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, brought a diverse crowd ranging in age and ethnicity — some clad in somber black attire, others in shirts with sayings such as “I can’t breathe” or “Good Trouble” — and they filled the second floor of the Capitol as they lined up for their last chance to see the congressman.

At 7 p.m. Lewis’ Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity brothers conducted a special rite for him. His body will remain at the Capitol until it is taken Thursday morning to Ebenezer Baptist Church for the funeral.

In her comments about Lewis, Bottoms drew upon the words of Langston Hughes’ powerful 1935 poem, “Let America Be America Again.”

She quoted him: “Let America be the dream the 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.”

Then she said: “Some five years after these words were written, a descendant of a slave, the son of sharecroppers was born. 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.”

Credit: Tia Mitchell

Credit: Tia Mitchell