Barack Obama praises John Lewis: Issues call to action

Former President Barack Obama (D) praised the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) during his eulogy speech as perhaps Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “finest disciple” adding that he “will be a founding father of that of a fuller, fairer, better America." 

The congressman’s funeral was held in the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Thursday. The church was the same place that King, a leader and icon of the Civil Rights Movement, was baptized and later preached.

“It is a great honor to be back at Ebenezer Baptist Church, at the pulpit of its greatest pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to pay my respects to perhaps his finest disciple,” Obama said of Lewis, a former confidant of King. 

Obama described Lewis as “an American whose faith was tested again and again to produce a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance.” The former president said he owed “a great debt to John Lewis and his forceful vision of freedom.”

Lewis died at the age of 80 on July 17. His death came several months after he announced he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and would be undergoing treatment.

The late congressman was known for his commitment to fighting racial injustices and voter suppression from the time he was a young man. 

“Spoke to a quarter of a million people at the March on Washington when he was just 23,” Obama said.  “Helped organize the Freedom Summer in Mississippi when he was just 24. At the ripe old age of 25, John was asked to lead the march from Selma to Montgomery.”

Obama said that at the time, Lewis was warned that then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace (R) had “ordered troopers to use violence, but [Lewis] and Jose Williams and others lead them across that bridge anyway.”

During Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, Lewis’ skull was fractured by troopers on Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Obama also spoke about voter suppression, an issue that Lewis dedicated his political career to fighting.

“There are those in power who are doing their darnedest 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, even undermining the postal service in the run up to an election," Obama said, appearing to refer to recent decisions made by the Trump administration. 

The Trump administration has spoken out numerous times against mail-in voting, falsely claiming that the practice leads to voter fraud.

The former president continued on, encouraging Americans to be persistent and "keep marching" to expand voting rights. 

“We should keep marching. To make it even better. By making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who've earned their second chance,” Obama continued.

“By adding polling places. And expanding early voting and making election day a national holiday so if you are somebody who's working in a factory or you're a single mom, who's got to go to her job and doesn't get time off, you can still cast your ballot.”

His comments came shortly after President Trump raised eyebrows earlier on Thursday for suggesting that his year's general election should be delayed. 

Obama's dedication to Lewis comes after the former president posted a written statement mourning the late congressman on Medium. 

“I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders," Obama said in the statement.

"When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made,” he continued.

He made a similar sentiment to Lewis in writing back in 2009, when the congressman asked him to sign a photograph at his inauguration. 

“Because of you, John. Barack Obama,” he wrote at the time, according to The New Yorker.

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