The late Congressman John Lewis lay in state in the Capitol on Monday, drawing a socially-distanced crowd of bipartisan lawmakers who went to pay their respects to the civil rights icon.
According to The Associated Press, the ceremony in the Rotunda was attended by several dozen lawmakers, and both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spoke highly of Lewis’ legacy.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), quoting a long-gone mentor of the late congressman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “But that is never automatic. History only bent toward what’s right because people like John paid the price.”
The ceremony for Lewis, the second African-American lawmaker to lie in state and the first in the Rotunda, also featured an audio message from him, in the form of an old commencement address, reports ABC News.
“It was many, many years ago, when we would visit the little town of Troy, visit Montgomery, visit Tuskegee, visit Birmingham, I saw those signs that said white men, colored men, white women, colored women, white waiting, colored waiting. I would come home and ask my mother, my father, my grandparents, my great grandparents, why? They would say that’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble,” said Lewis in the old commencement message.
“But one day in 1955, 15 years old in the 10th grade, I heard about Rosa Parks. I heard the words of Martin Luther King Jr. on our radio. 1957, I met Rosa Parks at the age of 17. In 1958 at the age of 18, I met Martin Luther King Jr. and these two individuals inspired me to get in the way, to get in trouble. So I come here to say to you this morning, on this beautiful campus with your great education, you must find a way to get in the way,” he said.
“You must find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble,” he said, echoing his civil rights mantra in the Capitol one final time.
After the ceremony, Lewis’ casket was taken outside to lie in state on the east steps of the Capitol so the public, which was prohibited from the Rotunda ceremony, could also pay their respects.
According to The Montgomery Advertiser, Lewis will lie in state at the Capitol on Tuesday as well, and will then be taken to the Georgia state capitol, in his home district, for the culmination of the six-day ceremony.
Senator Tim Scott (R-FL), one of only three African American members of the senate, praised Lewis’s fight for equality, specifically invoking his financial literacy efforts, during an interview on Fox News on Monday, and also mentioned the personal advice he gave him upon entering Congress.
“He was one of the first to invite me in and sat me down, and as if he could foreshadow the future, he told me not to be bitter,” said Scott, adding: “He was very paced and clear on his advice not to let the challenges of life and the bitterness of this congressional and political process to seep into my soul where it would impact how I saw other people.”
“You only saw through the eyes of love,” Scott recalled of Lewis’ advice to him.
Lewis will be buried on Thursday.