A look back at John Lewis’ visits to Memphis

A look back at John Lewis’ visits to Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Thursday was the final goodbye and funeral for Congressman John Lewis.

Former President Barack Obama eulogized the civil rights icon saying, “What a gift John was. We were all so lucky to have had him walk with us for awhile and show us the way.”

It was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta -- the church that his idol, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once pastored.

Sixteen years ago Lewis traveled back to Memphis, the last place Dr. King took his last breath, to accept the National Civil Rights Museum’s Freedom Award.

“We had discussed John before and I can’t remember why he wouldn’t have gotten it earlier but I can tell you it was a resounding, unanimous ‘yes,‘” said former National Civil Rights Museum President Beverly Robertson. “We were delighted when he came to Memphis and agreed to accept the award back in 2004.”

Robertson is now the CEO of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, but in 2004 when she was President of the National Civil Rights Museum she remembers taking Lewis on a private tour of the museum once he got to Memphis.

"John Lewis took us on a tour instead of us taking him on a tour because he was so deeply engaged in the struggle," said Robertson.

Lewis was involved in the sit-ins and freedom rides in Nashville and Greensboro.

He was also beaten during a planned march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, also known as "Bloody Sunday" at the Edmund Pettus bridge.

He was also the youngest speaker at the March on Washington.

After being honored in 2004, Lewis would come back to Memphis for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King.

During one of the memorial events in 2018 Lewis said, "My advice for the young people today is to study the movement, read the literature."

Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen was invited to the funeral service as part of the official Congressional delegation honoring Lewis' memory.

Cohen said, “I’ve never been around anyone like him, so loving and giving, brilliant and courageous. He is truly a saint.”

Cohen said the last time he was at Ebeneezer Baptist Church was for Lewis' wife's funeral.

In an essay John Lewis wrote shortly before he died to be published on the day of his funeral, he wrote, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community., a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

In his 2018 trip to Memphis for MLK50, he spelled out exactly what that looks like.

Lewis said, “We have to use the power of the vote. I’ve said on many occasions that the vote is the most powerful non-violent instrument or tool that we have in the Democratic society and we have to use it.”

Representative David Kustoff released this statement:

“Roberta and I are praying for the friends and family of John Lewis at this time. John Lewis was an extraordinary man who was a leader of our time. His contributions to the civil rights movement and our nation as a whole will endure for generations to come.”

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