The late Rep. John Lewis’ passionate words — his inspirational call for Americans to get into “good trouble,” his lifelong demand that the country live up to its promise of equality — echoed in the historic Capitol Rotunda one last time Monday.
A recording of those familiar lines played as the civil rights leader lay in state and lawmakers from across the political divide bid farewell to the man known as the “conscience of Congress.”
The encore from Mr. Lewis, which played during a ceremony paying tribute to his lifetime fighting for justice, recounted how his parents and grandparents told him not to get into trouble when he questioned segregation and was inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks to take a stand.
“I come here to say to you this morning, on this beautiful campus, with your great education, you must find a way to get in the way. You must find a way to get in trouble — good trouble, necessary trouble,” he intoned in the recording. “Never become bitter. Never become hostile. Never hate. Live in peace. We are one, one people, and one love.”
The Georgia Democrat is the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, where his casket rested on the same catafalque — a decorative wooden platform — used in every “lie in state” ceremony dating back to President Abraham Lincoln.
“John revered President Lincoln,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “His identification with Lincoln was clear 57 years ago, at the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, where John declared: ‘Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people’ — words that ring true today.”
“We knew that he always worked on the side of the angels. And now we know that he is with them,” she added. “God truly blessed America with the life and leadership of John Lewis.”
To “lie in state” is one of the highest honors for American heroes, typically reserved for statesmen and military leaders.
While the first to lie in the Rotunda, Mr. Lewis is the second Black American lawmaker to be given the “lie in state” honor and the fourth to be honored at the Capitol.
The first Black lawmaker was Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who laid in National Statuary Hall. Mr. Cummings died last October from long-term health issues. Parks, a civil rights pioneer, was lain in honor — a separate title — in the Capitol Rotunda in 2005.
The invitation-only ceremony for Mr. Lewis was smaller than those in the past because of the coronavirus pandemic. Several lawmakers in attendance honored him by donning “Good Trouble” masks.
Mr. Lewis died July 17 at the age of 80 of pancreatic cancer. He had served in Congress for more than 30 years representing Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, which includes Atlanta.
A son of sharecroppers, Mr. Lewis later became an icon of the historic Civil Rights movement, alongside King.
He was one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961, jailed for multiple nonviolent protests, and was assaulted at the infamous “Bloody Sunday” clash between protesters and law enforcement on Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
He crossed that bridge one last time Sunday, as part of the six days of memorial services to honor the civil rights legend.
Before arriving at the Capitol, Mr. Lewis‘ casket was driven past the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the newly established Black Lives Matter Plaza.
In 1963, Mr. Lewis was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington.
Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, recounted attending the March and being moved by Mr. Lewis‘ words and massive crowds.
“The site gave me hope for our country. That was John’s doing,” Mr. McConnell said. “History only bent toward what’s right because people like John paid the price to help bend it … But even though the world around him gave him every cause for bitterness he stubbornly treated everyone with respect and love.”
His final public appearance was at the Black Lives Matter Plaza last month.
Mr. Lewis was moved in the evening to the top of the Capitol’s East Front steps where the public can view his casket from the East Plaza. Masks and social distancing are strictly enforced as the viewing continues Tuesday.
House lawmakers also honored Mr. Lewis on Monday by renaming the Democrats’ marquee voting rights bill after the civil rights leader. Democrats have called on Republicans to help pass the bill and President Trump to sign it in memory of Mr. Lewis.
Mr. Lewis will lie in state at the Georgia State Capitol on Wednesday.
He will be laid to rest on Thursday in Atlanta following a private funeral service at the city’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which King once led.
President Trump, who was leaving the White House for an event in North Carolina in the afternoon, told reporters he would not visit the Capitol to view the casket.
“I won’t be going, no,” the president said.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.