Bottoms leads John Lewis tribute on DNC’s final day

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms helped kick off the fourth night of the DNC by paying tribute to the late John Lewis.

The life of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis has been an undercurrent throughout the Democratic National Convention. But shortly before Joe Biden’s acceptance speech, Democrats put the civil rights hero’s legacy at center stage in an emotional tribute.

In a prime-time address Thursday from the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Biden and Kamala Harris would follow in Lewis’ tradition as leaders “who hold justice close to their hearts and believe that the lives of my four Black children matter.”

“He walked gently amongst us — not as a distant icon, but as a God-fearing man, doing what he could do to fulfill the as-yet-unfulfilled promise of America,” she said.

The ceremony capped four days of frequent praise and honor for Lewis, a Georgia Democrat whose stand against racism, segregation and hate made him the “conscience of the Congress” during his 17 terms representing an Atlanta-based district.

Democrats have repeatedly invoked Lewis’ favorite saying — “good trouble” — throughout the virtual convention to describe their defiance of President Donald Trump’s agenda and vows to expand health care coverage, combat climate change and fight discrimination.

Party leaders have pledged to pass a sweeping ballot access measure — dubbed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — if Democrats win the White House and control of both chambers of Congress.

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And when Georgia’s turn came up at a virtual roll call, it was state party Chairwoman Nikema Williams — who replaced Lewis on the November ballot after his death last month — who formally delivered Georgia’s 117 delegates to Biden in front of a mural of the civil rights icon in Sweet Auburn.

Thursday’s remembrance revisited his legacy.

After Bottoms spoke, a string of national figures and Georgia leaders honored Lewis’ memory, including voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and Senate candidate Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. Footage of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died in October but had a close friendship with Lewis, was also included.

Then came a montage of archival footage from the civil rights movement that led to pictures of more recent protests and a portrait of Lewis standing inside the bold yellow lettering of Washington’s Black Lives Matter Plaza in his final public appearance.

The tribute ended with a performance by singer-songwriter John Legend and rapper Common, whose song “Glory” won the Best Original Song Academy Award in 2015 and was featured in the movie “Selma” about the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the Alabama town.

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‘Our voice'

The speech was the most significant of Bottoms’ political career and evoked her rise in the span of four years from Atlanta councilwoman to mayor of Georgia’s capital city to one of Biden’s earliest and most prominent surrogates.

As she confronted a global pandemic and unrest over police brutality in Atlanta, her national profile soared. She emerged as a finalist to become his running mate and, should Biden win, a potential appointment to his Cabinet.

7/29/20 - Atlanta, GA - Georgia First Lady Mary Kemp (from right), Gov. Brian Kemp, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, State Rep. Calvin Smyre, stand to receive 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 / alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Her national platform has drawn attacks from Republicans. Trump’s campaign accused her of weakening the Atlanta Police Department and alienating law enforcement officials.

“Georgians want law and order and will re-elect President Trump and Republicans up and down the ballot this November,” said Savannah Viar, the campaign’s Georgia spokeswoman.

Bottoms, for her part, warned of those “disgracefully using this pandemic to spread misinformation and interfere with voting” — a reference to Trump’s baseless threats and warnings about mail-in ballots. She ended her address with a call to action.

“Congressman Lewis would not be silenced. And neither can we,” she said. “Our votes can be our voice. We cannot wait for some other time, some other place, some other heroes. We must be the heroes of our generation, because we, too, are America.”

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Here’s what Georgia leaders had to say:

Stacey Abrams, a former gubernatorial candidate and voting rights activist:

“Someone who has navigated thorny issues of policy, not by castigating alone but by also encouraging people to be better than they think they can be.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms

I’m Keisha Lance Bottoms, a mother four, and mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, cradle of the civil rights movement and, like so many other cities, a place where the struggle for human dignity continues.

I’m proud to have grown up in this city, educated in its public schools and blessed to have known our “hometown heroes” like Dr. Joseph Lowery, Dr. C. T. Vivian, and our teacher, our friend, our conscience, our congressman, John Lewis. He walked gently amongst us—not as a distant icon, but as a God-fearing man, doing what he could do to fulfill the as-yet unfulfilled promise of America.

People often think they can’t make a difference like our civil rights icons, but every person in the movement mattered—those who made the sandwiches, swept the church floors, stuffed the envelopes. They, too, changed America. And so can we! The baton has now been passed to each of us.

We have cried out for justice, we have gathered in our streets to demand change, and now, we must pass on the gift that John Lewis sacrificed to give us, we must register, and we must vote.

In his parting essay written to us, Congressman Lewis expressed his pride in the activism that has swept our country and he reminded us that if we fail to exercise our right to vote, we can lose it. Indeed, there are those who are disgracefully using this pandemic to spread misinformation and interfere with voting.

Forcing many, in 2020, to still risk their lives to exercise their sacred right to vote—a right that has already been paid for with the blood, sweat, tears, and lives of so many. So, let’s stand up for our children, our children’s children, and for this great democracy that our ancestors worked to build, and let’s vote.

And let’s organize to get others to vote with us. You can help make this happen by texting VOTE to 30330. We know how important it is that we elect real servant leaders, leaders like Joe Biden an Kamala Harris—people of honor and integrity, who hold justice close to their hearts and believe that the lives of my four Black children matter.

In the words of womanist poet Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you.”

Congressman Lewis would not be silenced. And neither can we. Our votes can be our voice! We cannot wait for some other time, some other place, some other heroes. We must be the heroes of our generation, because we, too, are America!

7/30/20 - Atlanta, GA - Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock offers a benediction to close the service. On the sixth day of the “Celebration of Life” for Rep. John Lewis, his funeral is held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, with burial to follow. Alyssa Pointer / alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, a pastor and Senate candidate:

"All these decades later, while he and others of his generation achieved much, we're still fighting against police brutality and fighting for our voting rights. And so we best honor him by continuing to fight the good fights that he fought by staying in good trouble."

Former United States Ambassador Andrew Young poses for a portrait inside the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center in 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ

Credit: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ

Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young:

“John Lewis had the respect of everybody because he was the one who demonstrated the most courage. He’d been beaten and knocked down and get up and go to find another battle. John was focused on ending voter suppression. And it wasn’t that he was a great orator, it’s that he was a great spirit.”

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