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John Lewis honored as 'founding father' of a better America

Ernie Suggs, Tia Mitchell and Maya T. Prabhu, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

Obama veered into the times and a warning, bringing up images of racist Alabama Police Commissioner Bull Conner and former Gov. George Wallace, and he aligned their actions to what is going on today with police brutality and voter intimidation and suppression.

"We may no longer have to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar to cast a ballot. But even as we sit here there are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision," Obama said. "Even undermining the postal service in the runup to an election that is going to be dependent on mail-in ballots."

Hours before the funeral, President Donald Trump floated the idea of delaying the Nov. 3 general election, questioning whether mail-in votes could be trusted.

"I know this is a celebration of John's life," Obama said. "There are some who might say we shouldn't dwell on such things. But that's why I'm talking about it. John Lewis devoted his time on this Earth to fighting the very attacks on democracy and what's best in America that we're seeing circulate right now."

Former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, who served on Atlanta's City Council with Lewis decades ago and remained a close friend told the crowd: "In the last days of his life, when we both knew that death was imminent, I desperately wanted to tell John how much he meant to me and the country. But in a solemn moment, he pulled me closer and he whispered, 'everyone has to vote in November. It is the most important election ever.'"

Former President George W. Bush spoke of Lewis' famous compassion and forgiveness and referred to a time when Republicans like himself and Democrats like Lewis could share common ground.

 

"Listen, John and I had our disagreements of course," he said.

Their conflict started when Lewis boycotted Bush's 2001 inauguration after the contentious 2000 election. But they ended up working together on issues like voting rights laws and the building of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Bush also signed legislation extending for 25 years the Voting Rights Act, the historic 1965 law which opened polls to millions of Black Americans by outlawing racist voting practices in the South.

"But in the America John Lewis fought for and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action," said Bush, who got a standing ovation when he was introduced by the Rev. Raphael Warnock.

"We the people, including congressmen and presidents, can have different views on how to affect our union while sharing the conviction that our nation, however flawed, is a good and noble one. We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis."

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