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Former Presidents And Others Attend The Funeral For Rep. John Lewis


How do you say goodbye to someone who's been a public figure all your life? Barack Obama was not quite 4 years old in 1965 when John Lewis was among the leaders of a voting rights march that was attacked on a bridge in Selma, Ala. Decades later, Sen. Barack Obama spoke at that bridge and served with John Lewis in Congress. Years after that, President Barack Obama spoke at the bridge again. Yesterday, Obama delivered a eulogy for Lewis. Here's NPR's Debbie Elliott.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: From the pulpit of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, President Obama warned that Lewis' very legacy is under attack.


BARACK OBAMA: We may no longer have to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar in order to cast a ballot.


OBAMA: But even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darndest...


OBAMA: ...To discourage people from voting.

ELLIOTT: Obama called for restoring and revitalizing the Voting Rights Act, the law Lewis was willing to die for. Obama called Lewis a founding father of a better America. He said Lewis was proud to see a new generation of activists in the streets demanding a racial reckoning today and compared the tactics used against them to what Lewis once endured.


OBAMA: George Wallace may be gone. But we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.


ELLIOTT: Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also offered remembrances. And there were personal tributes from Lewis' friends, family and legislative staff. His niece, Sheila Lewis O'Brien, asked mourners to be willing to get into what Lewis called good trouble to advance social justice in the name of her uncle.


SHEILA LEWIS O'BRIEN: The man who taught, the man who walked, fought, knelt, sat, held hands with both Blacks and whites, bled, lifted his voice, bent his knees and was willing to give up his life for a righteous cause.

ELLIOTT: The congressman's Deputy Chief of Staff, Jamila Thompson, described what it means to carry on the legacy of John Lewis.


JAMILA THOMPSON: Be kind. Be mindful. Recognize the dignity and the worth of every human being.

ELLIOTT: The son of Alabama sharecroppers received the highest posthumous honors this past week, including lying in state at the U.S. Capitol. He was buried in Atlanta yesterday as a bugler played "Taps."

Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DANIEL BUTTERFIELD'S "TAPS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.