Politicians, dignitaries and other mourners filed into a historic Atlanta church on Thursday for the funeral of longtime U.S. Representative John Lewis, capping a week of memorial services and tributes to the civil rights pioneer.
Former President Barack Obama is scheduled to give the eulogy for Lewis, who died on July 17 at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are also slated to speak.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several other members of Congress were among the mourners who took their seats in front of an American flag-draped casket at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.
King, a leader of the Black civil rights movement and a mentor to Lewis, was assassinated in 1968.
Lewis, an Alabama sharecropper’s son who strove for equality for Blacks in an America grappling with racial bigotry and segregation, was a fiercely determined champion of nonviolent protest and was inspired by King.
Lewis was first elected in 1986 to represent Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives. His death came at a time of reckoning across the United States over racial injustice, with widespread protests condemning unequal police treatment of Black Americans and institutions removing or renaming tributes to former leaders of the pro-slavery Confederacy.
The funeral follows a week of memorial services.
The coffin bearing his body was escorted across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, decades after his “Bloody Sunday” beating there drew a national spotlight to the struggle for racial equality. And on Monday his casket was taken to the U.S. Capitol in Washington where it lay in state through Tuesday.
In an essay written shortly before his death and published in the New York Times on Thursday, Lewis called on the nation to come together for justice and equality.
“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war,” Lewis wrote. “So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”