Obama offers Eulogy at John Lewis Funeral

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About Eulogy
A eulogy (from εὐλογία, eulogia, Classical Greek, eu for “well” or “true”, logia for “words” or “text”, together for “praise”) is a speech or writing in praise of a person(s) or thing(s), especially one who recently died or retired or as a term of endearment.Eulogies may be given as part of funeral services. In the US, they take place in a funeral home during or after a wake; in the UK they are said during the service, typically at a crematorium or place of worship, before the wake. In the US, some denominations either discourage or do not permit eulogies at services to maintain respect for traditions. Eulogies can also praise people who are still alive. This normally takes place on special occasions like birthdays, office parties, retirement celebrations, etc. Eulogies should not be confused with elegies, which are poems written in tribute to the dead; nor with obituaries, which are published biographies recounting the lives of those who have recently died; nor with obsequies, which refer generally to the rituals surrounding funerals. Catholic priests are prohibited by the rubrics of the Mass from presenting a eulogy for the deceased in place of a homily during a funeral Mass.The modern use of the word eulogy was first documented in the 15th century and came from the Medieval Latin term eulogium (Merriam-Webster 2012). Eulogium at that time has since turned into the shorter eulogy of today.Eulogies are usually delivered by a family member or a close family friend in the case of a dead person. For a living eulogy given in such cases as a retirement, a senior colleague could perhaps deliver it. On occasions, eulogies are given to those who are severely ill or elderly in order to express words of love and gratitude before they die. Eulogies are not limited to merely people, however; places or things can also be given eulogies (which anyone can deliver), but these are less common than those delivered to people, whether living or deceased.

Obama Gives Eulogy at John Lewis Funeral

About Funeral
A funeral is a ceremony connected with the final disposition of a corpse, such as a burial or cremation, with the attendant observances. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember and respect the dead, from interment, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor. Customs vary between cultures and religious groups. Common secular motivations for funerals include mourning the deceased, celebrating their life, and offering support and sympathy to the bereaved; additionally, funerals may have religious aspects that are intended to help the soul of the deceased reach the afterlife, resurrection or reincarnation.
The funeral usually includes a ritual through which the corpse receives a final disposition. Depending on culture and religion, these can involve either the destruction of the body (for example, by cremation or sky burial) or its preservation (for example, by mummification or interment). Differing beliefs about cleanliness and the relationship between body and soul are reflected in funerary practices. A memorial service (or celebration of life) is a funerary ceremony that is performed without the remains of the deceased person.The word funeral comes from the Latin funus, which had a variety of meanings, including the corpse and the funerary rites themselves. Funerary art is art produced in connection with burials, including many kinds of tombs, and objects specially made for burial like flowers with a corpse.

The civil rights leader is being laid to rest in Atlanta, the city he represented in Congress for more than three decades.

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Obama Gives Eulogy at John Lewis Funeral

Crowds gathered to view John Lewis’s coffin as it was carried out of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Here’s what is happening:

  • President Obama gave the eulogy: ‘America was built by John Lewises.’
  • Presidents Bush and Clinton also delivered remarks of praise.
  • ‘Always, always, always vote.’
  • ‘Here lies a true American patriot.’
  • Outside the church, crowds described his legacy: ‘Not giving up, no matter what.’
  • At a viewing yesterday, people pondered the meaning of ‘good trouble.’
  • Mr. Lewis wrote an essay to be published after his death.
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‘This Beautiful Man’: Obama, Bush, Clinton and Pelosi Honor John Lewis

At the funeral for Representative John Lewis, former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, paid tribute to the civil rights icon.

[church music] “He knew that the march is not over. That the race is not yet won, that we have not yet reached that blessed destination, where we are judged by the content of our character. He knew from his own life that progress is fragile, that we have to be vigilant against the darker currents of this country’s history. Member of Congress representing the people of this state, and this district for 33 years, mentor to young people — including me at the time. Until his final day on this earth, he not only embraced that responsibility, but he made it his life’s work. Which isn’t bad for a boy from Troy.” “From Troy to the sit-ins of Nashville, from the Freedom Rides to the March on Washington, from Freedom Summer to Selma, John Lewis always looked outward not inward. He always thought of others. He always believed in preaching the gospel, in word and in deed, insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope. John Lewis believed in the Lord. He believed in humanity, and he believed in America. He’s been called an American saint, a believer willing to give up everything, even life itself, to bear witness to the truth that drove him all his life.” “John Lewis was a walking rebuke to people who thought, ‘Well, we ain’t there yet. We’ve been working a long time. Isn’t it time to bag it?’ He kept moving. He hoped for and imagined, and lived and worked, and moved for his beloved community. He took a savage beating on more than one day.” “John convinced each one of us that we were his best friend in Congress, and we come with a flag flown over the Capitol the night that John passed. When this flag flew there, it said goodbye. It waved goodbye to John our friend, our mentor, our colleague, this beautiful man that we all had the privilege of serving with in the Congress of the United States.”

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At the funeral for Representative John Lewis, former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, paid tribute to the civil rights icon.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Alyssa Pointer

President Obama gave the eulogy: ‘America was built by John Lewises.’

ImageMourners watched a screen outside Ebenezer Baptist Church as President Barack Obama spoke inside.
Mourners watched a screen outside Ebenezer Baptist Church as President Barack Obama spoke inside.Credit…Melissa Golden for The New York Times

The funeral of John Lewis, a giant of Congress and the civil rights era, drew three former American presidents and hundreds of mourners on Thursday to Ebenezer Baptist Church, the sanctuary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on a sweltering day in Atlanta, his longtime adopted hometown.

In a eulogy, former President Barack Obama praised Mr. Lewis as an “American whose faith was tested again and again to produce a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance.”

Mr. Obama said he “owed a great debt” to Mr. Lewis.

“We’re born with instructions to form a more perfect union,” the former president said. “Explicit in those words is the idea that we’re imperfect. That what gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further than any might have thought possible.”

Mr. Obama asked those present to imagine the courage of a 20-year-old Mr. Lewis as he tried to “challenge an entire infrastructure of oppression” by riding up front on a segregated bus in the South.

“America was built by John Lewises,” Mr. Obama said. “He as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideas. And someday when we do finish that long journey toward freedom, when we do form a more perfect union, whether it’s years from now or decades, or even if it takes another two centuries, John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.”

On a day when President Trump tweeted about delaying the November election, which he does not have the power to do, Mr. Obama also said America’s electoral system was under attack. He decried efforts to close polling stations and undermine the Postal Service in the lead-up to an election in which voting by mail may be crucial because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Obama called for an expansion of the Voting Rights Act that would restore voting rights to felons, make Election Day a public holiday, open more polling stations and provide full congressional representation to residents of Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

“If all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do,” Mr. Obama said, referring to the procedural rule in the U.S. Senate that requires 60 votes to allow most legislation to pass.

Presidents Bush and Clinton also delivered remarks of praise.

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton shared personal memories of working alongside Mr. Lewis in Washington and the lessons he taught them and the nation.

“We live in a better and nobler country today,” Mr. Bush said, “because of John Lewis — and his abiding faith in the power of God, in the power of democracy, and in the power of love to lift us all to a higher ground.”

“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,” he said. “We the people, including congressmen and presidents, can have differing views on how to perfect our union while sharing the conviction that our nation however flawed is at heart a good and noble one.”

Mr. Clinton praised Mr. Lewis’s enduring efforts over many decades.

John Lewis was a walking rebuke to people who thought, ‘Well we ain’t there yet, we’ve been working a long time, isn’t it time to bag it?’ He kept moving. He hoped for, and imagined, and lived and worked and moved for his beloved community.”

“He got into a lot of good trouble along the way, but let’s not forget he also developed an absolutely uncanny ability to heal troubled waters,” Mr. Clinton said. “When he could have been angry and determined to cancel his adversaries, he tried to get converts instead. He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist.”

“I think it’s important that all of us who loved him remember that he was, after all, a human being,” he said. “A man like all other humans, born with strengths that he made the most of when many don’t. Born with weaknesses that he worked hard to beat down when many can’t. But still a person. It made him more interesting, and it made him in my mind even greater.”

Others in the crowd included Senators Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey; the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who also gave remarks; and Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms.

‘Always, always, always vote.’

Xernona Clayton, a civil rights leader and the godmother of John Lewis’s son, addressed the service.Credit…Alyssa Pointer/via Reuters

A number of speakers encouraged people to use their right to vote, a right Mr. Lewis fought to protect.

“If you truly want to honor this humble hero, make sure that you vote,” said Bill Campbell, a former mayor of Atlanta.

“What you can do, and I want to advise you and admonish you, to really give meaning to the John we love: vote,” said Xernona Clayton, civil rights leader and broadcaster.

Jamila Thompson, a deputy chief of staff to Mr. Lewis, said one of his messages to those in his office was: “Always, always, always vote.”

Speakers also recalled a gentle soul who encouraged those around him to care for the people they loved.

Ms. Thompson described him as a boss who didn’t hire based on a résumé but on an applicant’s passions, and inspired staff members to stay with him for decades.

He “spent every waking moment paying it forward,” she said, an attribute that meant while he had time for everyone, he was often behind schedule. The staff learned to operate on “John Lewis time.”

“No matter how hard we worked he always worked harder,” she said.

In the same way that he always took a call from his wife or his son, she said, he would tell his staff to drop everything if they had a family emergencies. He was a part of their lives, in and out of the office, Ms. Thompson said.

“He got all into our businesses and was there in spirit or in person for the big moments,” she said.

‘Here lies a true American patriot.’

In his opening remarks, the Rev. Raphael Warnock called on those present to consider Mr. Lewis’s legacy and commit to continuing his fight for democracy and justice.

“We are summoned here because we are in a moment when there are some in high office who are much better at division than vision, who cannot lead us, so they seek to divide us,” said Mr. Warnock, who is currently running for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

“At a moment when there is so much political cynicism and narcissism that masquerades as patriotism, here lies a true American patriot who risked his life and lived for the hope and the promise of democracy.”

Mr. Lewis was called to the ministry as a teenager, Mr. Warnock said, and would preach to his family’s chickens. But as he grew up, he was called to other causes.

“As his life took shape, instead of preaching sermons, he became one. He became a living, walking sermon about truth-telling and justice-making in the Earth. He loved America until America learned how to love him back.”

Mr. Lewis’s homegoing at Ebenezer evokes decades of civil rights history. The bodies of Dr. King, a mentor and ally of Mr. Lewis, and Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, lie side-by-side over a reflecting pool across Auburn Avenue, a fabled street of Black commerce and culture known as “Sweet Auburn” that is also home to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park.

Mr. Lewis was a member of the church, which last month hosted the funeral for Rayshard Brooks, a Black man fatally shot by a white police officer at an Atlanta fast-food restaurant.

Outside the church, crowds described his legacy: ‘Not giving up, no matter what.’

Mourners outside Ebenezer Baptist Church.Credit…Melissa Golden for The New York Times

They came carrying photographs of John Lewis as a fiery young activist and of John Lewis as an elder statesman. They waved American flags and wore T-shirts emblazoned with Mr. Lewis’s motto of “good trouble.”

A crowd filled a plaza outside of Ebenezer Baptist Church, known as “America’s Freedom Church,” on Thursday outside Mr. Lewis’ funeral.

Pam Hooks, a literacy coach in alternative schools, flew in with her cousin from Brevard County, Fla. “History!” she said.

“There’s always so much negativity surrounding African Americans,” said Ms. Hooks, who is Black. “We came to be in the midst of positivity and a moment that will live in the minds of Americans for years and years.”

As a teacher, she said, by attending in the flesh, she could help better convey Mr. Lewis’s legacy to her students, a legacy she described as “not giving up, no matter what.”

She treasures moments of celebrating Black history. She flew to Washington for President Obama’s first inauguration and to Detroit to attend a viewing of Aretha Franklin. “History,” she said.

At a viewing yesterday, people pondered the meaning of ‘good trouble.’

People stood in line to pay respects to Mr. Lewis on Wednesday afternoon outside of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta.Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

Over the last few days, the body of John Lewis has traveled the country, from his native Alabama to the halls of Washington, D.C., to a public viewing Wednesday in Atlanta, his longtime adopted hometown, where scores of mourners lined up on a sweltering afternoon to bid him goodbye.

A motorcade on Wednesday led Mr. Lewis on one final tour of Atlanta, the city he represented in Congress for more than three decades and a place he helped establish as the spiritual home of a nonviolent movement to protest racism.

But on this ultimate journey, the hearse carrying the body of the congressman and civil rights leader traversed a city that in recent weeks has been racked by turmoil. It drove down streets where scores of demonstrators have marched this summer to protest police violence, including the fatal shooting of Mr. Brooks.

Mr. Lewis’s death on July 17 came amid a moment of unrest across America, with the nation again wrestling with its troubled racial history. And in the days since, at memorial events in Alabama and Washington, one person after the next has invoked Mr. Lewis’s credo of getting into “good trouble.” As a young man — and for the rest of his life — he defined it as a moral call to rebel through nonviolent means against injustices, even if the consequences were perilous.

The conversations about Mr. Lewis’s legacy, with some of his colleagues calling him the “conscience of Congress,” have pushed many activists and others to consider how his message of nonviolent resistance has endured and evolved for a new generation carrying on the fight.

“It’s easy to go violence on violence,” David Parker, an Army veteran who works for a courier company, said on Wednesday as he stood in a long line at the Statehouse to bid Mr. Lewis farewell. “The hard part is peace.”

“You go the other way,” Mr. Parker, 54, said, “you’re going to blow up the country.”

Outside the gold-domed Georgia Capitol, a diverse crowd that had come to pay their respects snaked around the building and seemed to constantly replenish itself. The crowd was young and old, in hijabs and ball caps, in formal dress and T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan of a new civil rights protest movement that Mr. Lewis had wholeheartedly endorsed.

Cedric Williams, 56, a tech worker, spoke of growing up Black in Memphis, and of being scarred, as a young man, by the 1968 assassination of Dr. King in his hometown.

Mr. Lewis’s consistent preaching of a shared humanity that transcends racial barriers spoke to him, as did his insistence that people, and the nation, were capable of change, just as Mr. Williams himself had changed.

“We’re still talking about those same issues,” Mr. Williams said, adding that he had been heartened by Mr. Lewis’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter effort as the latest chapter in a movement he had helped steer. “We are standing on the shoulders of greatness.”

[Read more: Mourners said Mr. Lewis’s message of nonviolent resistance must live on.]

Mr. Lewis wrote an essay to be published after his death.

Mr. Lewis wrote an essay shortly before his death for The New York Times to publish on the day of his funeral. Here is an excerpt.

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

[Read more about this essay and Mr. Lewis’s legacy from The Times’s editorial page editor, Kathleen Kingsbury.]

Richard Fausset, Rick Rojas and Lucy Tompkins contributed reporting.