In a victorious celebration of his struggle for civil rights, even in the face of violent opposition, the late John Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the final time Sunday. Mourners applauded, chanted and cried across the Alabama River and into Montgomery as a horse-drawn carriage held Lewis’ flag-draped casket. Red rose petals led the way on this final trip, covering a pavement stained with his blood when he was targeted 55 years ago by hordes of state troopers.
On Bloody Sunday, 1965, Lewis and hundreds of marchers came to the bridge to demand an end to the laws that prevented voting by Black people. Law enforcement pounded the unarmed demonstrators with clubs and pumped tear gas into them. Lewis and the others came back days later, marching from Selma to the Montgomery House to reinforce their appeal for voting rights. Its advocacy also inspired legislative legislation that contributed to the passage of that year’s Voting Rights Act.
The sloping Selma bridge became a symbol of the civil rights movement and the perseverance of Lewis. He crossed bridge arm-in-arm with President Barack Obama in 2015, on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. After Bloody Sunday, Lewis’ work continued for decades, resulting in a prolonged tenure representing Atlanta in the US. Maison des représentants. He died of pancreatic cancer on July 17, aged 80. The size of his influence mirrored his sweeping memorial tour.
Saturday at Troy University in Alabama he was celebrated as a hometown hero, a campus where he was never allowed to enrol because he was Black. His funeral procession proceeded to Selma before heading to Montgomery, where he lay in state at the Alabama Capitol, along the route of his marches. The funeral procession is to proceed to the United States. Capitol at Baltimore, then next week to Atlanta.
The even-tempered leadership and determination of Lewis was emblematic of the struggle for civil rights that reshaped the Jim Crow South and laid the foundation for years of peaceful demonstrations against racism. This weekend’s remembrance services and vigils honored Lewis’ unyielding dedication to the cause of civil rights. Speakers and members of the group praised his legacy while inspiring a new generation of activists to move forward. A recent wave in protests around Black Lives Matter and police brutality, many said, underlined the importance of the job.
Sewell called for the Voting Rights Act to be restored, parts of which had been struck down by the US. 2013, Supreme Court. An example of Lewis will lead the way, she said.
The Final Voyage
Mourners repeated the message at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday. Activist Sherrette Spicer said the final voyage of Lewis over the bridge was a symbolic turning point for the movement that he led.
Indiana’s Toyia Stevenson brought her two daughters, aged 12 and 14, on Sunday in memory of Lewis. He wants her sons to consider the road map left by Lewis and other civil rights luminaries as they become more involved in demonstrations against police violence and institutional racism.
As a civil rights movement leader, Lewis sought to use the strength of his own narrative to encourage new activists. His final voyage across Alabama repeated the story as a dramatic retelling. It marked the Boy out of Troy’s persistence in the face of hardship, retracing his journey from a farm in rural Alabama to the center of the civil rights movement – and to Washington’s halls of power. Law enforcement departments that once resisted the efforts of Lewis now supported them, escorting their bodies from Troy to Selma, then to Capital City.
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The journey brought attention to Lewis’ pernicious and pervasive bigotry that battled his entire life. His hearse wove past the locations of the Confederacy’s first executive offices, big slave trade centres, lynchings and other grim reminders of the nation’s racist history. This passed landmarks such as the King Memorial Baptist Church on Dexter Avenue and the Rosa Parks Museum, examples of hard-fought wins against the searing injustice. As the procession wound its way through downtown Montgomery towards the Capitol, the sound of sirens pierced the air.
Within, before many members of Alabama’s congressional delegation, including the U.S Gov. Kay Ivey arranged flowers in front of Lewis’ casket. Sen. Doug Jones, the more time he approached the casket. Peggy Wallace Kennedy, the former Gov. George Wallace’s aunt, made a surprise appearance at the ceremony, underlining Lewis’ willingness to attract unexpected allies. In the 1960s, Wallace fueled racial fervour in Alabama as a political tactic, defying Black people’s vote and civil rights. He denounced the Selma-Montgomery marches and urged law enforcement to halt the marches in the lead-up to Bloody Sunday.
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Kennedy has long been outspoken about grappling with the legacy of her father, saying that he’s been on the “wrong side” of history. Kennedy has written a book in 2019 about coming to terms with the segregationist legacy of her family. She wrote of watching and responding with fear at the Bloody Sunday march. Thus, keeping herself private when she beating of the man she later discovers is Lewis. In the novel, when she invites to speak, Kennedy remembered holding hands. It is with Lewis during the 44th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
Lewis knew the search for justice was not over. He joined the Black Lives Matter campaign in his final years and sought to expand gun control to reduce crime. For those who came this weekend to remember him, the end of his journey was a rallying cry. Sonya Powell went with her mother, Lillie, 75, and her son, Julian, 14, to Selma this weekend. She grew up in the Atlanta neighbourhood of Lewis and wanted to pay her respects.
Powell said a recent wave of demonstrations was capturing the attention of her young son. Lewis, she said, maybe his guiding light.