Tuesday, 28 July 2020 19:07

John Lewis: A final day of tribute in Washington as some lawmakers push to honor legacy with voting rights bill

Written by USA TODAY
Supporters of statehood for Washington, D.C., wait in line to say farewell to John Lewis as he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol. Supporters of statehood for Washington, D.C., wait in line to say farewell to John Lewis as he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol. (photo by Deborah Barfield Berry, USA TODAY)

John Lewis: A final day of tribute in Washington as some lawmakers push to honor legacy with voting rights bill 
By Deborah Barfield Berry, Maureen Groppe and Bart Jansen, USA TODAY, July 28, 2020

WASHINGTON – John Lewis will lie in state in the Capitol for a second day Tuesday, giving the public time to pay respects to the civil rights icon and longtime lawmaker before he's laid to rest in Georgia.

Public viewing will continue from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Lewis will lie in state in Georgia's capitol rotunda Wednesday before his funeral in Atlanta on Thursday.

After a service in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Monday, Lewis' casket was taken to the East Front Portico for public viewing.

Biden remembers Lewis

Former Vice President Joe Biden recalled Tuesday his final conversation with Lewis, who was eager to chat while lying on his deathbed.

“Instead of answering my concerns about him, he asked about me. He asked about us,” Biden said during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, about his proposals for economic equity for racial minorities. “He asked that we stay focused on the work left undone, to heal this nation. To remain undaunted by the public health crisis and the economic crisis that have taken the blinders off in this crisis and showed the systemic racism for what it is that plagues this nation.”

Biden said he walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where Lewis was beaten while fighting for civil rights. He recalled wondering at the crest of the bridge what courage it took for Lewis to descend toward authorities wielding clubs and riding horses.

“He once said, ‘Freedom is not a state, it’s an act," Biden said.

Biden and his wife, Jill, visited the Capitol on Monday to pay their final respects to Lewis.

In his remarks Tuesday, Biden urged Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act with legislation renamed Monday for Lewis.

“If they don’t, it’s one of the first things I’ll do as president, if elected,” Biden said.

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, and wife Jill Biden, pay their respects to the flag-draped casket of the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., as he lies in state at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., on July 27, 2020.

Standing in line for Lewis

Reta Cosby, a 68-year-old from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, was the first in the line of hundreds who came to pay their respects. She had arrived by noon Monday, when the sun was beaming and the temperature was in the 90s. Still, Cosby said she'd woken up that morning and felt in her spirit that she had to come. By around 6:30 p.m., she led the line and walked up to the building to view the casket atop the steps.

“You don’t have the opportunity to see these icons,’’ said Cosby, who years ago joined civil rights marches in Oklahoma. “I just felt this kindred bond. … It was important for me to be here.”

Reta Cosby, a 68-year-old from Upper Marlboro, Md., was the first in the line of hundreds who came to pay their respects to John Lewis.

Because of cautions about the coronavirus, visitors could only walk up to the bottom of the Capitol's East Front steps to say their goodbyes. There were people of all ages and races. Some pushed walkers. Some came in suits.

Terrence Jones, 37, a Birmingham native, said he met Lewis years ago in Atlanta and appreciated that they both had roots in the South.

“He was a very gracious guy,’’ said Jones, adding that the visit was a historic moment.

Others like Anise Jenkins, Joyce Robinson-Paul and Emma P. Ward appreciated Lewis’ support for D.C. statehood so they came to pay their respects.

“If he could have, he would have gotten us statehood,’’ said Robinson-Paul.

Supporters of statehood for Washington, D.C., wait in line to say farewell to John Lewis as he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol.

Lawmakers try to continue Lewis' work

As the public services continue, Black lawmakers are calling on Congress to honor Lewis' legacy by supporting legislation that would restore a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., said a bipartisan group of lawmakers should be designated to negotiate details.

“If you want to honor his legacy, pick a `gang of eight' and let’s go to work,” said Richmond, former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “If they’re serious. My gut tells me they’re not.”

The casket of Rep. John Lewis carried by military honor guard up the steps of the U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2020 in Washington.

In December, with Lewis presiding over the vote, the Democratic-led House passed voting rights legislation that has not been taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate.

The bill, which the House agreed Monday to name after Lewis, would amend the 1965 law to create a new way of measuring if states require oversight for violating minority voting rights.

John Lewis, civil rights champion and the 'conscience of Congress,' was honored by his colleagues at the US Capitol.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that law's original formula was unconstitutional.

Some Republicans have argued that oversight is no longer needed.

Democrats have made voting rights a priority. One of the first measures they passed after taking control of the House in the 2018 election would expand voting rights.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, the Ohio Democrat who heads a House subcommittee on elections, is holding a hearing Tuesday on voting rights in the U.S. territories.

She said lawmakers who are praising Lewis, need to "to put up or shut up."

"They can’t continue to give lip service and not support what somebody like John stood for," she said.

Read the article in USA TODAY.

More: Activists working in John Lewis' shadow warn about voter suppression ahead of November vote

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