Bidding Farewell to My Friend and Colleague John Lewis

July 31, 2020

July 31, 2020


Dear Friend,

This week, Congress, his friends and the whole country bid farewell to the legendary Congressman John Lewis. I was proud to represent my constituents at both the Capitol Rotunda service on Monday and at the funeral service at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Thursday. John was a truly courageous and heroic man, and the four Presidents who eulogized him (including Jimmy Carter, by a letter read at the service) made clear his central role in the history of Civil Rights and the advancement of liberty in our country. As President Obama said, “he was a good and kind and gentle man.” The service celebrated John Lewis as both an ordinary and extraordinary man, loved and revered, who will be greatly missed as a friend and leader.  

Remembering John Lewis at His Funeral in Atlanta

On Thursday, I joined a selected group of Members of Congress invited to be the official Congressional delegation to the funeral for John Lewis at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. As many, including President Obama, noted, Lewis’s home-going service took place from the church Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once pastored. In fact, President Obama referred to John as “perhaps (Dr. King’s) finest disciple.” I was honored to be there and inspired by the words of Presidents Obama, Clinton, Bush and Carter; Speaker Pelosi; the Reverend James Lawson; and so may icons of the effort to make ours a more perfect union.

Participating in Congressional Memorial Service in the Capitol Rotunda

On Monday, I was invited to attend the Congressional ceremony at which John Lewis’ flag-draped casket was brought to the U.S. Capitol one final time to lie in state in the Rotunda. On its way to the Capitol, the hearse drove past the Martin Luther King memorial, the Lincoln Memorial (where he was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (a project that is one of his great legacies) and the new Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House.  Congressman Lewis is the first African American to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. The coffin rested upon a catafalque that held the casket of President Abraham Lincoln after his assassination in April 1865 as well as the casket of President John F. Kennedy, among other distinguished leaders.

Urging the Naming of Highway Leading to the Edmund Pettus Bridge

John Lewis led voting rights advocates across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on U.S. 80 in 1965 where he and others were beaten in an event now known as “Bloody Sunday.” The Voting Rights Act became law later that year. On July 24, I led a letter signed by every member of the Alabama Congressional delegation asking Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to name U.S. 80, between Selma and Montgomery, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Highway. Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama, who represents the district that includes the highway, joined me in introducing legislation to name the highway for Congressman Lewis. 

Remembering My Friend Congressman John Lewis

John Lewis was my hero, my colleague and my friend. I was very close to him and we shared good friends such as Julian Bond, Maxine and Vasco Smith, Russell Sugarmon, Benjamin Hooks and former State Senator Avon Williams. On occasion, when we had a vote and I was split, I’d look to John Lewis. He was my North Star.

On the night he died, I released a statement recalling my old friend. See that statement here. I have also delivered two speeches about my friend from the House floor. See them here and here. Farewell, dear friend. Farewell.

Congressman Lewis wrote a final op-ed that he asked to be published in The New York Times on the day of his funeral. I would encourage everyone to read it.   It is a moving testament to the devotion to our nation that he pursued throughout his life and until his last breath.  It is, as was his life and example, a call to action for us all to love our country enough to demand, in non-violent manner, that we fulfil our nation’s promise for all our citizens to be treated fairly, equally, and justly.

Quote from John Lewis

"Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. 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. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.” – John Lewis’ final op-ed Thursday in The New York Times.

As always, I remain.
Most sincerely,

Steve Cohen
Member of Congress