Public to honor late Rep. John Lewis in unprecedented public viewing at US Capitol

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The voice of the late Rep. John Lewis -- known as the "conscience of the U.S. Congress" -- reverberated through the U.S. Capitol one more time during a ceremony in the Rotunda on Monday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi grew emotional as she eulogized her late colleague of several decades.

"We knew that he always worked on the side of the angels, and now we know that he is with them," she said.

"When he made his speech (at the March on Washington) 57 years ago, he was the youngest speaker. How fitting it is that in the final days of his life, he summoned the strength to acknowledge the young people peacefully protesting in the same spirit of that march, taking up the unfinished work of racial justice. Helping complete the journey begun more than 55 years ago," she said.

She then turned the floor over to Lewis -- and his own words from a 2014 Emory University commencement speech.

"It was many, many years ago, when we would visit the little town of Troy, visit Montgomery, visit Tuskegee, visit Birmingham, I saw those signs that said white men, colored men, white women, colored women, white waiting, colored waiting. I would come home and ask my mother, my father, my grandparents, my great grandparents, why? They would say that's the way it is. Don't get in the way. Don't get in trouble," Lewis said.

"But one day in 1955, 15 years old in the 10th grade, I heard about Rosa Parks. I heard the words of Martin Luther King Jr. on our radio. 1957, I met Rosa Parks at the age of 17. In 1958 at the age of 18, I met Martin Luther King Jr. and these two individuals inspired me to get in the way, to get in trouble. So 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," he continued. "You must find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble."

Lawmakers broke out in applause after the clip played.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's remarks also recalled Lewis' speech during the March on Washington, which the Kentucky Republican attended as a young Senate intern.

"I marveled at the massive crowds. The site gave me hope for our country, that was John's doing. Even on that day, as his voice echoed across the mall, I wondered how many dared to imagine that young man would walk the halls of the Congress?" McConnell said.

"John Lewis lived and worked with urgency because the task was urgent. But even as the world around him gave him every cause for bitterness, he treated everyone with respect and love," McConnell continued.

The socially distanced ceremony inside the Capitol was attended by party leaders on both sides of the aisle and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, many in masks reading "vote" and "good trouble." The civil rights icon was honored in the private, invitation-only event that was followed by an unprecedented public viewing taking place outside the building through Tuesday.

Shortly before 5:30 p.m., former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden visited the Capitol to pay their respects.

Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence visited the Capitol following their return from Florida and visited Lewis' casket while it was on the building's east front steps for public viewing.

Following Monday's public viewing, family members, close friends and current and former staffers were taking turns sitting vigil overnight while Lewis lies in state in the Rotunda.

Tuesday's public viewing outside the Capitol will take place from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday. Masks are required and social distancing will be enforced.

Lewis is the second Black lawmaker to lie in state at the Capitol, a tribute reserved for the most revered Americans, following the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, a longtime Maryland democratic lawmaker, who died last October.

Earlier Monday, Pelosi -- wearing a patriotic mask and sunglasses -- stood on the flight deck Monday at Joint Base Andrews alongside Lewis' family and current staff, as his body arrived from Alabama.

A procession shut down several streets in Washington as Lewis' body was transported to the U.S. Capitol. The motorcade passed by landmark sites in Washington, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lincoln memorials, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Lewis' only son, John Miles Lewis, exited the family motorcade at Black Lives Matter Plaza -- the site of Lewis' last public appearance -- where D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser presented him with the street's sign.

The motorcade following the hearse consisted of at least 46 of the Georgia Democrat's family and friends, including his son, who was accompanied by his friend LaTasha Brooks; his siblings Samuel Lewis, Henry "Grant" Lewis and Rosa Tyner; his sister-in-law and a host of nieces and nephews.

Prior to the hearse's arrival at the Capitol, a sailor who was one of the eight military pallbearers who was to carry Lewis' casket up the steps and into the Capitol passed out. The remaining seven pallbearers remained at attention while the sailor was tended to on the ground.

When the casket arrived, the seven remaining pallbearers carried the casket up the steps in their assigned positions, leaving a gap where the eighth pallbearer was supposed to have been.

The Navy said in a statement that the sailor passed out from the extreme heat and dehydration, but was doing well.

A military honor guard is accompanying Lewis' casket throughout the multi-day celebration of life.

Asked on Monday, when he was departing the White House for a North Carolina facility involved in producing a potential coronavirus vaccine, if he planned on paying his respects to the congressman, President Donald Trump said no.

"No, I won't be going. No," Trump told reporters.

Ceremonies on Capitol Hill followed a weekend that paid tribute to the late icon's life, first in his hometown of Troy, Alabama. On Sunday in Selma, 55 years after he was beaten on "Bloody Sunday," Lewis, the son of sharecroppers, crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge for a final time.

Lewis will lie in state at the Georgia State Capitol on Wednesday. He will be laid to rest on Thursday at South View Cemetery in Atlanta after a private funeral at Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once led.

As the motorcade made its way to the Capitol, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution by unanimous consent from Rep. Jim Clyburn to rename Democrats' voting rights bill, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, after Lewis. The legislation would restore certain key protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act against racial discrimination that the Supreme Court struck down in 2013.

"He had internalized non-violence the way nobody else had. A lot of us had adopted it as a tactic -- but John committed his life to it," Clyburn told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos Monday after the vote.

Lewis played an instrumental role in the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which established greater protections for people registering to vote in the South.

ABC News' Luis Martinez, Molly Nagle, Benjamin Siegel, John Parkinson and Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

Related Topics