On Thursday, mourners honored civil rights icon and longtime Rep. John John Lewis in Atlanta. At his funeral ceremony, the first Black president of the United States, Barack Obama, praised both as one of the greatest leaders of the American civil rights movement and a call for specific action to realize that legacy. It will likely come down as one of Obama’s biggest speeches, and worth watching.
In a speech that was almost surprising in his sincere invocation of politics, Obama compared the brutal violence of 1965 that nearly ended Lewis ’life – police broke his skull on Edmund Bridge Pettus in Selma, Alabama – with the violent crackdown on peaceful protests by the federals. Today’s officials, called the 2013 Supreme Court decision to gut the Voting Rights Act and the wave of voter suppression that followed an “attack on what John fight”, challenged to the hypocritical congressional leaders who opposed the renewal of the “law that [Lewis] while issuing blank statements calling him a “hero,” he called for an end to the removal of people of incumbents, he called for Election Day to be a national holiday, he asked for citizenship for DC and Puerto Rico and called for “Eliminate the filibuster, another relic of Jim Crow, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American.”
The barnburner of political discourse followed a retaliation of some of the highlights of Lewis ’life and career, a narrative that laid the groundwork for Obama’s call to action. It became clear that Obama was devastated by the death of a man he called a mentor.
“It is a great honor to return to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the pulpit of its greatest pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to greet perhaps his finest disciple,” Obama said near the beginning of his remarks, a voice almost breaking.
“I came here today, because I, like so many Americans, owe a huge debt to John Lewis and his strong vision of freedom,” Obama continued.
Obama then described Lewis’ rise from a place of “modest means” in rural Troy, Alabama, where, as a child, he exposed his father’s discussions with friends about the deadly violence of the local Ku Klux Klan . As Obama described, after hearing King speak on the radio, Lewis became one of the biggest proponents of nonviolent resistance in this country.
“He helped organize the Nashville campaign in 1960. He and other young men and women put in a segregated meal, well-dressed, straight back, refusing to leave a milkshake poured over their head, or a cigarette extinguished. on their backs, or a foot aimed at their ribs – refusing to let go of this dignity of theirs and their sense of purpose, ”Obama said. “And after a few months, the Nashville campaign achieved the first successful desegregation of public facilities in every major city in the South. John took a taste of prison for the first, second, third , well, many times. But he also took a taste of victory and consumed it with a fair purpose and took the battle deeper into the South. “Obama then described Lewis’ work to desegregate buses in the South.” months before the first official Freedom Rides. “
But Obama’s narrative was not just a powerful portrait of the life of an icon and a founding member of the most democratic phase of American democracy – linking Lewis’s work in the 1960s to America’s present struggle with authoritarianism and voter suppression.
“Sometimes, we read about it and we still take it for granted, or at least act as if it were inevitable. Imagine the courage of two people The age of Malia, she said younger than my oldest daughter, challenging an entire infrastructure of oppression, “he said.” John was only 20 years old, but he pushed all 20 of those years to the center of the table, betting everything, as a whole, whose example can challenge centuries of convention and generations of brutal violence and a number of daily indignities suffered by African Americans. “
Finally, Obama resorted to a strong and direct political attack on the current police brutality against Blacks and efforts to suppress voters and protests.
“Bull Connor” – the Birmingham, Alabama police commissioner, the police commissioner who turned dogs and fire pipes on civil rights-era protesters – “may be gone , but today we witness, with our own eyes, police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans., “said Obama, alluding to the assassination of George Floyd. “George Wallace may be gone, but we can assist our federal government in sending agents to use tear gas and riots against peaceful protesters,” he added, admitting to the Trump administration – ordering attacks on protesters in -Lafayette Square in DC, and Portland, Oregon.
Obama concluded by proposing that America honor the late Congressman by enacting the New John Lewis Voting Rights Act and other measures to protect the vote, and by ending the “relic of Jim Crow ”of the filibuster if needed to pass it.
Obama was one of the most beautiful funeral functions by the American president – a salute to Lewis ’life and a specific and potential motif that could be created to protect the rights for which he and so many others fought and fainted. History determines whether his call – and that of Lewis – was heard in the United States.
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