Former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush paid their respects Thursday to late civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis at his funeral in the southeastern city of Atlanta, Georgia.
In delivering the eulogy at Ebenezer Baptist Church, a historic site where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, Obama said Lewis was an “American whose faith was tested again and again to produce a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance.”
Bush noted when addressing the mourners that Lewis had “been called an American saint,” but acknowledged he and Lewis sometimes had opposing views.
“John and I had our disagreements, of course, 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,” Bush said to applause.
Following Bush’s remarks, Clinton said that Lewis, who endured police beatings and was jailed dozens of times during the civil rights movement, was a multi-faceted man who demanded no more than he himself could withstand.
“John Lewis was many things, but he was a man, a friend of sunshine in the storm, a friend who would walk the stony roads that he asked you to walk that would brave the chastening rods he asked you to be whipped by, always keeping his eyes on the prize, always believing none of us would be free until all of us are equal,” Clinton said. “I just loved him. I always will.”
Ninety-five-year-old former President Jimmy Carter, who appointed the late 17-term congressman to a federal position, did not attend the service. A Carter spokesperson said the former president and his wife, Rosalynn, have not been traveling in recent times.
But Ebenezer Baptist Church Pastor Raphael Warnock read a letter from Carter that said, “While his achievements are enjoyed by all Americans, we Georgians know him as our neighbor, friend, and representative.”
President Donald Trump did not attend Lewis’ funeral or any of the other services held recently in his honor.
Lewis, who died earlier this month from pancreatic cancer at the age of 80, will be buried at South-View Cemetery in Atlanta.
Lewis served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 33 years as the congressman from Georgia’s 5th congressional district that includes Atlanta.
Mourners lined the streets along the route where a hearse carrying Lewis’ body traveled Wednesday on its way to the state Capitol.
Many people stood in long lines to file past the flag-draped coffin, with viewing hours extended late to try to accommodate all who wanted to pay their respects.
At a ceremony, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp called Lewis a “beloved Georgian, an American hero and a friend to all who sought a better, fairer, more united society.”
Thursday’s services mark the last in a week of celebrations of Lewis’ life. His body was carried Sunday across a bridge in Selma, Alabama, where he, as a young man in 1965, was among civil rights marchers pushing for voting rights for African Americans and other minorities. Lewis was among those beaten by state troopers.
His body lay in state for two days at the U.S. Capitol in Washington before being taken to Georgia. He was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda.
Also Thursday, bells rang out at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington in honor of the late congressman.
Lewis’ death comes as America reckons with its history of racial discrimination following the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African American man, in police custody in Minnesota.
Wayne Lee contributed to this report.