Return to Transcripts main page

CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Civil Rights Icon, Rep. John Lewis' Carriage Departs Chapel For Edmund Pettus Bridge; Life of Rep. John Lewis Commemorated In City That Was Written Into History Of Civil Rights. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired July 26, 2020 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:01]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: I'm Brian Stelter. And this is a Special Edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Let's go live to Selma, Alabama on a landmark day for the United States from what was once Bloody Sunday, today a blessed Sunday. This is a day when the life of Congressman John Lewis will be commemorated in the city that was written into the history of civil rights partly by Lewis and partly with his blood.

In just a few minutes Lewis will take his final journey across this bridge, the Edmund Pettus Bridge perhaps one day to be renamed to be John Lewis Bridge. We're going to be seeing a horse-drawn wagon carrying his body, travelling alone across the bridge where it will be met by Alabama state troopers who will be there to salute him.

They mark in contrast of course from these scenes from 1965 when Lewis and other marchers were brutalized by forces there on that other side of the bridge. Today, we are going to see this horse-drawn wagon we're going to see this first, this journey from Selma to Montgomery. And we'll go live to Montgomery in just a few minutes but want to start today in Selma as we await a short service that will take place at Brown Chapel and then a short drive through the streets of Selma, to the bridge on your screen.

Let's begin with CNN's Martin Savidge. He is in Selma at the bridge joined by a couple of folks who decided to travel quite a distance to be there today. Marty.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They did, in fact, Brian, come a long way. One of them is actually local, one is come far. Let me start with the woman who has come far. You're Kenzie Bond (sic) and you came over almost 1000 miles from Texas to be here.

CHARLOTTE KNOX, SPECTATOR: Yes, over two days.

SAVIDGE: What was so important that brought you here? Why did John Lewis mean so much?

KNOX: I wanted to meet him my entire life, and it's really -- just because he was a man of such strong conviction. It really means a lot to me. Someone who was willing to put basically his life on the line during a very turbulent time in the 1960s, to better the world for other people.

So, I've always looked up to him, and unfortunately, I wasn't able to meet him, so I was not going to miss this event, no matter how far it was.

SAVIDGE: Velma Martin, you're here as well. You're actually born and raised here. John Lewis to you means?

VELMA MARTIN, SPECTATOR: John Lewis means change to me. His life, his sacrifices and all that he did was to better the world. Not just our country, but the world. And I think that through his continuous fight and his seeing things, the struggle, to put his life on the line for us, I think it will make this country so much better, such a better place.

And even when he couldn't fight physically, I think he was still fighting. And the work he did, you know, throughout his life is evident here by the people who came out, and me being one. I wouldn't miss this here to honor his life, his legacy. And hopefully, I will pass his legacy on through my actions of trying to help others, as he did.

SAVIDGE: Real quick, Kelsey (ph), talking of legacy, how do we all commit to the legacy?

KNOX: Of course, it's voting. But just talking, having conversations, getting to know people, look around at the crowd today, it's a very diverse crowd. Instead of just blocking ourselves off into our own ideologies, getting out, meeting people but definitely voting for your convictions and the things you believe in.

SAVIDGE: Same question.

MARTIN: I agree. Voting is number one, and also getting to know people. Not judging people by what you see but getting an opportunity and chance to know people because there are no good, in any ethnicity or no all bad in any ethnicity. And everybody has something to contribute, and sometimes we miss it without getting to know the person.

SAVIDGE: It's very true. John Lewis believed engagement was always the way even when may have been in opposition.

Thank you both. A pleasure to meet you both.

KNOX & MARTIN: Thank you.

SAVIDGE: Thank you.

Brian, they are just a few of the many who have gathered, and it is a very diverse crowd. They are here for many, many reasons. Many of them personal because John Lewis touched their lives, affected their lives, changed the landscape of all our lives simply with his being and with what happened with this bridge and so much else -- Brian.

STELTER: And, Martin, over at the Brown Chapel, just a couple minutes' drive from where you are, a short service is now under way. We'll show, there's a speaker, there's going to be a prayer and then we'll see this move over to the bridge.

Tell us more about what it's like there in Selma today. You know, we've heard from someone who came a very long distance. Others who are there locally. What's it feel like to you there, Marty?

SAVIDGE: You know, it's not a festive, it's a somber mood but they're celebrating the home going, so much of the African-American culture, so much of the culture of the South. There is still a recognition of celebrating the life and heroism.

One of the issues that comes up many times, is the name on the bridge. It's the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Edmund Pettus was a Confederate officer and he was also head of the Klan in Alabama, and many find the name offensive.

So, I've talked to people here about, how about changing that name, how about calling it the John Lewis Bridge. There's a push back on that and it comes from an unusual source, the foot soldiers. Those who are known to have participated to walk with John across that bridge back in the day, back during the civil rights marches.

They don't want to change that name because, they say, that name is so closely tied with their victory, with the achievements that were made, with the Voting Rights Act, with the sacrifice that John Lewis and others made on that day. So, surprisingly, they believe the name should stay where it is.

But the crowd that's been gathering here since easily 7:30 in the morning just believes this is a moment in time, a moment, of course, not to be repeated, the last crossing over of John Lewis at a significant moment in a movement and now in the final acts of recognition to his life, Brian.

STELTER: And your point about the bridge name is really interesting because a few minutes ago one of the organizations that's trying to change the name of the bridge put out a press release trying to explain its rationale saying the name, the bridge is named after, quote, a treasonous American who cultivated and prospered from systems of degradation and oppression. They are saying, we need to rename the bridge because we need to honor an American hero.

So this debate about what to do, whether the name should be changed is notable in the context of what we're seeing today.

Marty, we'll come back to you in a moment, but I wonder if we can head over to Brown Chapel, to the church where we're seeing this, the service take place.

[11:05:06]

We're about to hear a song a prayer. Let's listen in for a moment to Terri Sewell.

REP. TERRI SEWELL (D-AL): -- where he will lie in state at the Capitol.

John has left this earth but his legacy remains on. And we continue to benefit from his life's work. He's laid out the blueprint for us to pick up the baton and continue his march, for voting rights, for civil rights, for human rights. John believed firmly the best days of our nation lie ahead of us. I hope his passing causes us to rededicate ourselves to getting into good trouble, necessary trouble.

Can't you hear him? Never give up. Never give in. Keep the faith. Keep your eyes on the prize. For John and our nation, let's make him proud.

(APPLAUSE)

STELTER: Terri Sewell speaking there.

She mentioned one of those phrases that John Lewis was known for, good trouble. The family members, the family of John Lewis, who have arrived there at the church ahead of this program, they are wearing T- shirts this morning with the words "Good Trouble."

Let's listen in for a moment as I believe we're about to hear a performance outside of the church.

(SINGING)

STELTER: Take my hand, Precious Lord, and lead me home, lead me home. Kristen Glover singing outside Brown AME Church.

While we listen and while we watch, we're expecting to see the body of John Lewis travel across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in just a few minutes here.

I would like to bring in April Ryan and Bakari Sellers.

April, you've known Congressman Lewis for decades. I would like to hear what this moment feels like to you, what you see this morning.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm somewhat emotional. I think back to the 50th anniversary of -- the 50th commemoration of Bloody Sunday and the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and I was on that bridge for the 50th commemoration with President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush and Congressman John Lewis. And that was a moment that we reflected on what actually happened. The sting on the skin of black people, the bite of the dog on the flesh of black people, and the billy club cracking the skull of John Lewis all for the right to vote.

And as we look at that bridge in Selma, Alabama, Selma still looks the same over 57 years ago. Nothing's really changed physically. But because of John Lewis, the people of Selma, they speak loudly. I think about some of the most recent elections where black women made a change, made a difference.

All because of the moments of history, the fight against oppression, the right to vote, the push for the right to vote, and I think about this young man, who was the lieutenant of Dr. Martin Luther King who marched across that bridge, and just in the last couple -- last few months that this gentleman, congressman John Lewis, actually marched across that bridge one last time for people.

[11:10:01]

So, this is a moment where it's come full circle for Congressman Lewis as well as for the movement. This is a moment where Congressman Lewis will cross the bridge one last time. It's essentially passing the baton to the next generation to rise up, to fight for voting rights. I'm thinking back again, you were talking with Martin Savidge a few minutes ago about Edmund Pettus Bridge, the name Edmund Pettus Bridge.

We know at that time, Congressman John Lewis, his wife and lieutenants, those who watched with him for years, they say, no, no, don't change the name, because we need to remember. But he talked -- Congressman John Lewis before his death, talked to the black people, Joe Madison, and said, look, I understand the push and if, indeed, you know, this is going to happen, I will let you all make it happen. So, he was more amenable. He was open to it now to the end of his life for the name change.

So, we are seeing now the movement and the moment come full circle for this great warrior who spoke of nonviolence, who marched nonviolently and spoke and lived his life in peace.

STELTER: That's wonderful context, April. I'm so grateful you're here as we watch this final crossing of the bridge. Let's briefly on this Sunday morning, let's go back to the church. Let's go back to the steps of Brown Chapel.

Otis Culliver is speaking out. He's the senior pastor of the historic Tabernacle Church in Selma.

OTIS CULLIVER, PASTOR: -- that you will undergird them with your strength, and grant them your grace, I pray for your peace, the pass of all understanding to guard their hearts and their minds to Christ Jesus, our Lord. And, Lord, I pray that we who are still remaining, who still have blood running warm in our veins, that we, too, will stand for justice, that we will stand for righteousness, that we will lift our voices for you, lift our choices for the calls that is just and right.

Until we hear your welcome voice say, well done, good and faithful servant, as Congressman Lewis crosses the Alabama River, we rejoice today knowing he's already crossed the Jordan River and he's now resting in your presence.

In Jesus' mighty name, we pray all these things. Amen.

CROWD: Amen.

STELTER: Amen to that.

This is the conclusion of the memorial service that's taking place outside Brown Chapel. What we're going to see now is about a half mile procession through the streets of Selma to the bridge on your screen. You're looking at it from the other side of the bridge now. You're looking toward downtown, toward the newspaper office, toward the museum in downtown Selma.

Here is the view from downtown looking across the bridge. On the other side, that is, of course, where Lewis and other marchers were brutalized and bloodied in 1965. We're going to see the horse-drawn carriage carrying the body of Congressman Lewis cross this bridge in a couple of minutes. This is part of a six-day memorial ceremony honoring the long-time Georgia Democrat, the most respected man in the House of Representatives.

We're going to see this travel -- this procession to Montgomery, Alabama, today, and then to the United States Capitol and then back to Georgia in the coming days. As you know, the congressman died on July 17th at the age of 80 years old.

So, as we watch this procession that's about to take place, let me bring in Bakari Sellers in as well.

Bakari, we were just hearing from April about how the struggle continues, the journey continues and the struggle continues. And I wonder what you think John Lewis would want people to be thinking about, to be considering on a day like this.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, as Martin so eloquently stated, this is not a sad day for us. We may get emotional, April and I may get emotional, but this is not a sad day. This is a true celebration, a home-going celebration for a man who lived with such courage and pride, attempted to walk onto the pages of history throughout his congressional career. But I just want to add a little bit of context of who John Lewis was.

A lot of times, we talk about John Lewis through his relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. And that was just one small aspect of the man himself. March 7th, 1965, the day we call Bloody Sunday, he was actually chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, also known as SNCC.

[11:15:04]

And when we think about the relationship between John Lewis and his protest movement and SNCC, we understand when we look at it today with organizations like Black Lives Matter rising up, that John Lewis understood the power of activism, understood the power of getting young people involved in that activism.

It's been a very, very tough last 100 days for all of us. But in particular, those children of the movement like myself and those people who love these heroes because we've lost not just John Lewis, but in the last 100 days, we've lost Reverend Joseph Lowry, we've also lost C.T. Vivian.

When you think about these amazing men, the courage they had, when you think about these moments like Bloody Sunday, you just have to take a day like today, soak it up and have so much pride but understand while we made so much progress, we still have so far to go. And the last thing that I'll say, just add a little more context to today, is that yesterday would have been Emmett Till's 79th birthday.

And when you think about that, when you think about how Emmett Till was taken from us and thrown in the bottom of the Mississippi River and represent so many of those young bodies that we didn't find in the bottom of the Mississippi River, for allegedly whistling at a white woman, you understand the pain and trauma that it is to be black in this country.

You think about Emmett Till and you think about Bloody Sunday, and April said it best, you think about the dogs, you think about the water hoses, you think about the baton that was cracked across John Lewis' skull.

And you think about that pain, you think about that trauma and you understand what these men and women went through. And so while we learn and study about John Lewis, I don't want us to forget about that important chapter of his life when he was chairman and member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the more integral and important civil rights organizations in all of the constellation of those organizations.

And so, today is a day, I said on CNN with great pride, a great man is walking across the bridge one last time. And he's crossing this river, but as the pastor said, he's already cross the River of Jordan. So rest easy and rest in power.

STELTER: Thank you, Bakari. Please stay with us as we show you in Selma and in Montgomery the events of this celebration of life for Representative Lewis.

In a moment, I'd like to go to Victor Blackwell, who is in Montgomery.

Let me just show you the scene here in Selma, we showed you outside the church, the Brown Chapel where there was a service and a prayer. There's a procession we're expecting to see shortly through the streets of Selma, on the way to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Bakari mentioned MLK. And I want to share with the viewers, the horse- drawn carriage is being led by two black horses and it's modeled after the one that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had for his funeral.

Let's go to Montgomery and Victor Blackwell, CNN's Victor Blackwell is there with what's going to happen later today. We're seeing these events at Selma.

But then Montgomery is the next stop in this celebration of life.

Victor, tell us about the significance of where the congressman's heading.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, Brian, we heard from people who were there in Selma with Martin Savidge.

The mayor here, Mayor Reed of Montgomery, has asked people to line the streets to receive their son and the late Congressman John Lewis. That's expected to start soon. I'm seeing a few people here waiting for the arrival of the congressman.

But there is a quote that you mentioned Dr. King that I know Bakari uses often and that even president Obama had sewn into the rug in the Oval Office. That the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

As I stand here just a few feet from the capital of this state, the concept of John Lewis now being honored with lying in state in the rotunda, this is an honor that was extended to George Wallace, a governor, a segregationist governor here who was the governor of this state in 1965 on Bloody Sunday when John Lewis was beaten at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

When the congressman arrives here this evening to lie in state, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey will receive him here at the doorway. We know that Wallace was known for standing at the doorway of Foster Auditorium, at the University of Alabama, refusing to desegregate. Just a few feet from me is where Dr. King delivered that speech and using that line that's been quoted so many times, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

Right across the street is Dexter Street, now King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. King was the pastor for several years and where after the march from Selma to Montgomery resumed, the 25,000 people who gathered along that march and who were here waiting for the marchers from Selma, where that all ended. So, this is a period, these six days to honor the late congressman, that are orchestrated not just to show the major points of his life, the accomplishments of the congressman, but the progress of this state and this country, but still a long way to go.

The congressman will lie in state here after a small ceremony here that is -- will be led by the governor, and then he will head on to the other cities that choose to honor him. Atlanta, Washington, where he'll be in the rotunda and then his home-going ceremony on Thursday -- Brian.

STELTER: Victor, I can't help but think about the timing of these events, these six days. Two months after George Floyd's death, massive protests, continued protests in major cities from New York to Seattle.

Fears about voter suppression in the coming election. John Lewis was, of course, ill. He was suffering from cancer. He was battling cancer in his final months. To have him pass away in the summer of 2020, in the midst of these -- this convulsion that's happening in America, I wish he were here to see it.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, you know, he was there with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser right there at the Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of the White House, standing on that mural that was painted at the height of the protest.

STELTER: Yes, yes.

BLACKWELL: But as people start to line these streets, Brian, it makes sense to expect that there will be young people here, not just people who knew John Lewis as a younger man, but people who have learned about him since his renewed effort to get gun control laws passed in this country, after the Pulse shooting in Orlando, after his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and as they learn that John Lewis himself started as a foot soldier, as a protester, as the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, as a young man. He was just 17 years old when he wrote to Dr. King and became known as the boy from Troy, as Dr. King referred to him, and joined the movement.

So, it is that commonality of young people standing up and fighting for their futures as they saw John Lewis as well. We expect they will come here today to pay homage, to pay tribute to Congressman Lewis.

STELTER: Yes, a source of inspiration to this day and many, many days ahead.

I believe, victor, we're about to see the casket transferred onto this horse-drawn carriage. As I mentioned, two black horses in front of this wagon. They will be moving through the streets of Selma, about half a mile. And then to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, as viewers can see, if we drop the banner for a moment, there are rose petals that are adorning the entire length of the bridge.

Back to Brown Chapel we're about to see this transfer take place and we can see some of the residents who have come outside to witness this moment to pay their respects. As Martin Savidge mentioned a few moments ago, he's over by the bridge, there are also folks who have come from far away to witness this moment of history.

Martin, can you tell us more about the scene over there? It's been about 20 minutes since we spoke. Now, we do see at the chapel this procession about to begin. So, I would expect that the folks where you are, are going to witness this in a few minutes.

SAVIDGE: Right. They're waiting. They're happy to wait.

John Lewis, for them, is a hero in many ways. And he is a symbol of everything they believe in that is right. So, they'll wait as long as it takes.

Brown Chapel, all of this, we should point out, this journey John Lewis is on, it is all symbolically tied to the history of his life, beginning with yesterday. You had that very first good-bye, the first memorial service took place in Troy, his hometown, born and raised in Alabama.

He's a son of Alabama. Everyone may know him as a congressman from Georgia, but he is a son of Alabama. It was in this state that he got the foundation from which he built his own life, the strengths that he relied upon and the commitment and the way he remained true, it all began here.

You heard the personal remarks from his family members yesterday. All of them said, look, we're not going to tell you about the accolades. We're not going to go over the history. You know that. We'll tell you about Robert.

That's right, Robert Lewis. It's John Robert Lewis. The family knew him as Robert.

[11:25:00]

And they began to tell the stories about how he wanted to be a preacher when he was a young man and how on the farm growing up, he would actually preach to the chickens and to the cows in the field to actually practice his public speaking. It was that kind of personal insight. It was that kind of humaneness that we began to understand that most of us look at a person who is just living icon but he was the boy from troy.

And that nickname, by the way, coming from Dr. Martin Luther king came shortly after they met back in 1958 and he's used that name to this day -- Brian.

STELTER: Let's watch for a moment as we watch the casket carried out of the Brown AME Church.

(INAUDIBLE)

STELTER: Armed forces bearers bringing the casket containing Congressman John Lewis. The casket now on a horse-drawn caisson that is going to be moving from this church to Edmund Pettus Bridge in downtown Selma.

So many striking things about these images, including, of course, the masks the procession members are wearing. All this amid unfolding in the midst of a pandemic.

The members of the Lewis family asked mourners, well-wishers to be wearing masks and practicing social distancing. As this takes place today and for the next several days in Alabama and Washington and Georgia, viewers heard Terri Sewell speak a few minutes ago. Congresswoman Sewell said that Lewis, quote, has laid out the blueprint for us to pick up the baton and continue his march for voting rights, for civil rights, for human rights. His final march now beginning to take place in Selma.

As I mentioned, it's about a half mile this horse-drawn caisson will be traveling and then we're going to see a moment at the bridge where Congressman Lewis' casket one more time.

Let me bring in April Ryan and Bakari Sellers back in.

And I was thinking about something that Lewis wrote in 2017 in one of his memoirs. He wrote, freedom is not a state.

[11:30:00]

It is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, the continuous action we all must take. And each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.

And, April, I think when we see young people coming out on the streets of Selma today, those words are for them. That they have a part to play, just as Lewis played his entire life.

RYAN: Yes. As you said, from his words, it's a continuing action we all must take. And those words are for the young and old. But, you know, he was a young man, very young man, who continued the action of freedom that we all must take. And this is a blueprint for the next generation because each generation has its issues with race. And now we are still in 2020 a nation with the highest numbers of negatives in almost every category in the black community.

So, we must continue the fight. And the young people are the life blood of the movement as we see with Black Lives Matter. As we saw many years ago on February 1st at the lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina, with those four men from North Carolina A and T, 16, 17 and 18 years old, and congressman then, a young John R. Lewis, the boy from Troy who marched with Dr. King against his mother's wishes initially.

His mother understood back then that rocking the boat could be dangerous and damaging and deadly. But he did it because of her faith, because she would iron clothes and say, you know, I've never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging bread. And because of her faith he knew if her faith sustained her, it would sustain him as this young man in the movement. A movement of change. A movement for all Americans to vote.

And, Brian, what is so funny about this -- about this story is that his mother didn't want him to march with Dr. King, but when they finally got the right to vote after all of this Bloody Sunday, all the marches to get LBJ to pass the Voting Rights Act, she decided to join in. After the Voting Rights Act was passed into law. She even registered people to vote, all because of her son, who took his signal from his own mother and her faith.

STELTER: For viewers who are watching these images from Selma, I want you to know some of the buses, some of the vehicles, they are members of John Lewis' family traveling with him. And that's why you're seeing this procession with numerous vehicles heading from the church to the Edmund Pettus Bridge now.

Bakari, the notion about freedom not just a one-time act. Something that must continue always. The fact that John Lewis was there at Black Lives Matter plaza in Washington earlier this summer, it speaks to how he lived the words he spoke, he lived the advice he gave.

SELLERS: I mean, he also knew, just thinking about Bloody Sunday and the bridge that he's about to go across, that not only is freedom a verb, justice is a verb as well, but he also would always say that freedom isn't free. It requires you to act. There is a cost that is paid.

And there are a couple of things that I want to say today. And in the words of members of Congress, use a point of personal privilege, the first is, I don't want people -- I don't want people to believe that the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing Act were because of some legislative policy push. I don't want them to believe that it was because of some protest, per se. The reason that we were able to achieve those moments of legislative success is because of black blood that flowed through the streets just like the black blood that flowed on the bridge of Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. And so we have to remember that there was a great cost because freedom is not free.

And the last thing I'll say that I think April would agree with, I'm pretty sure she would, that's probably even more important today. For those individuals like the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, for Mitch McConnell, those words that you're saying about John Lewis, they ring hollow and they are empty.

You cannot praise John Lewis in one hand and then be the leading cause of voter suppression and gutting the Voting Rights Act on the other hand. You know, John Lewis would always say that we got to get in good trouble.

[11:35:02]

And for those people right now who are patting him on the back as he's making his way to heaven, but who do not believe in the fundamental right for us to pass a safe and secure ballot, every time we go to the ballot box, no matter where you're from or where you look like, I think John Lewis would simply look at you and say that your words do not mean a thing.

And so for all of my friends who are more conservative than I, who want to praise John Lewis today and for the next six days as we go through and remember this great hero, sometimes you just need to keep John Lewis' name out of your mouth because he's someone who stood on the shoulders of words like democracy, little D, and freedom. Things that right now people who are attempting to push back on those things do not completely understand. And John Lewis nearly gave his life so that we can be free.

STELTER: Thinking about the qualities that defined his life and his career, courage and bravery and commitment and honesty. Bakari, how do we spread that? How do we share that? How do we ensure that politicians in coming generations don't completely give up on those qualities?

SELLERS: That's a tough question, Brian. That's a really tough question. I don't really know the answer to that. I think that it's tough because a lot of our heroes that displayed those characteristics are dying. That's the moment that we're in right now.

It's not just the pandemic. It's not George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and David McAtee and Ahmaud Arbery. It's not just all of these things. But we're having this real reckoning between civil rights history and mortality and time. You think about the age of our heroes and you see that these people who represent the things that you're talking about, those qualities, they're passing away.

I mean, my heroes when I think -- I'm only 35. And, of course, I love Barack Obama but politically when I look at heroes I look at Marion Barry. I look at Julian Bond. I look at Stokely Carmichael. I look at John Lewis. I look at Diane Nash. You know, I look at Fannie Lou Hamer. I look at Ella Baker. These are the heroes and sheroes that paid those prices, that gave the ultimate measure of devotion so that I could sit here on CNN today and pontificate and articulate how I feel the world should be better than it is.

And so I think John Lewis would answer your question by simply saying that we cannot give up hope. That we cannot give up faith. And as difficult as it may be, we always have to keep our eyes on the prize. We can never let go and we must continue to push forward.

John Lewis would always say, go out and get in good trouble. And believe me, Brian, there's a generation out there, including myself, that will be sure that we get in good trouble from this day forth to ensure that our country actually lives up to the promises set forth. And that's all we can do to honor the legacy of people like John Lewis.

STELTER: And, Bakari, there's a lot of good trouble to get into. Look in any direction, there are a lot of ways to get involved.

SELLERS: Good and necessary trouble.

STELTER: I want to let viewers know that some of these vehicles you're seeing drive over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, some of these are members of Lewis family, some of these are members of his fraternity, his beloved Phi Beta Sigma. Some of these are staff members and others who are heading across the bridge before the horse-drawn caisson carrying the congressman's casket will travel over the bridge.

So, that final moment, that final crossing is so full of symbolism. Such a contrast to 1965. And such a moment for all Americans to see and hear. That will happen alone. We will see the horse-drawn carriage come up the bridge alone and pause for a moment. And that's coming up here in the minutes ahead.

This live shot is of Broad Street in downtown Selma. So, you're seeing up and down Broad Street as these cars and buses head across the bridge.

You know, we've been quoting the congressman here. I think that's the best value, is to hear his words, to hear his message.

So, April, let me read another message from the late congressman. He said about the importance of coming to Selma, about making this journey, the importance of marking the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. He said, "We come to Selma to be renewed. We come to be inspired. We come to be reminded that we must do the work that justice and equality calls us to do."

And I bring that up because a few moments ago, we showed some archival images from I believe this March. I believe this year. Despite Lewis in his bout of cancer, he was there with other dignitaries leading the way across the bridge earlier this year.

RYAN: At the end of the day, the march has to continue over this bridge for voting rights. [11:40:00]

Because we are now voting without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act that he and so many others marched across that bridge and were hurt, bloodied and bruised for. And it's so ironic now that they are looking at an effort in Congress to rename (INAUDIBLE) the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act because of his push for freedom, his push for every vote to count, particularly for black people, to stop voter suppression, to stop the issues of people having to go extraordinary lengths just to cast their ballot.

So at the end of the day, he is right. The movement has to continue. This is a moment we must remember. Even if they change the name of the bridge. The moment at the bridge still stands even if the name of the bridge changes.

STELTER: Let's go back to Broad Street in Selma where Martin Savidge is with the crowd. And, Martin, I'm looking at these images, you're of course there. From these images, it does appear these streets are pretty well lined, up and down Broad Street with mourners and well- wishers.

SAVIDGE: Right, they are. I think there's more people on the left side probably because they believe that is the side that John Lewis is going to pass along. But every since 7:30 this morning people have been selecting their sites, where they want to be. Some have traveled far.

We talked to a woman who drove nearly 1,000 miles from Texas. I talked to another family. They didn't decide until late yesterday afternoon, they drove all night from Gainesville, Florida, got here about 3:30 in the morning. This is a moment that they felt they had to be here. And for many of them it's personal. It's because of John Lewis. What John Lewis meant to them. What John Lewis did for them.

So, everyone here probably has their own individual reason why, but of course we also know it's because of the overarching of who he is. He's now passed and this is to remember a life that was dedicated to all of us.

You know, this journey which he is on, he's starting from Brown Chapel Church. That is the very church where they organized back in 1965. It's where Dr. King and where John Lewis met and organized these marches that were to go from Selma to Montgomery. That's where they left on March 7, 1965, Bloody Sunday, leaving that church, following this path.

So, that's what I'm saying, we're reliving some of history here. It's not just to allow the public an opportunity to see John Lewis one last time. It is to remember this remarkable journey that John Lewis took all of us on, going back to his very humble beginnings in Troy.

There's a great quote his brother made yesterday at the memorial service when he quoted his brother on the day he was sworn into Congress saying, this is a long way from the cotton fields of Alabama. He came from poverty and came to lead us as a nation, as both a civil rights leader and as a congressman.

So, that's why people have gathered here. They know there is so much they would like to say. Right now it's just their presence.

And one other thing I will point out, this bridge --

STELTER: Yes.

SAVIDGE: -- if you've seen it, it's curved. And so on that day, as they marched up that bridge, you could not see what was on the other side until you reached the apex. And this is part of what goes into the pause at the top. And there you stand. John Lewis with those foot soldiers.

And what do you see? An angry mob out there in front of you and armed state troopers. You know it's danger ahead. You can see it. And yet you step forward. And to me, that is incredible courage. And that's what John Lewis represents to so many gathered here -- Brian.

STELTER: Then and now. Yes.

Let's talk more about that day, March 7, 1965. Let me bring Victor Blackwell back in, who's in Montgomery, where this procession is heading toward later today.

Take us back to that day, Victor, and the significance of these 600- plus marchers heading over this bridge, not exactly sure what was on the other side. And then what happened next with the state troopers.

BLACKWELL: Yes. They left Brown Chapel AME Church, lined up two by two, walking out and John Lewis in that trench coat we have seen in those pictures with a backpack with just a toothbrush, an apple and a book about government expecting potentially that he could spend another night in jail.

Now, John Lewis talked about as a congressman that he had been arrested 40 times in the '60s during the movement, had been arrested five times as a congressman and could be arrested again for several causes. But when they got to the foot of the bridge, they saw the state troopers. One hundred fifty of them. And they said, stop. And Hosea Williams, one of King's lieutenants in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said, can we have a moment?

[11:45:02]

And as John Lewis tells the story, the troopers said, there will be no moment. And then we saw those troopers rush in, some of them on horseback, and start to push back and gas and beat those foot soldiers, 600 of them. Fifty of them had to go to hospitals.

If I look over it's because I'm looking at the shot. I don't want to speak over the congressman crossing over the bridge. But it was several days later, several weeks later, in fact, on the 21st when not only Lewis and the other foot soldiers who had been released from the hospital, but more than 3,000 people started that march from Selma to Montgomery, the 42 miles from the Edmund Pettus Bridge to where I'm standing right now.

And by the time they got here, there were 25,000 people here to receive them. And as King got closer to Selma, he said, instead of we shall overcome, we are going to change the lyrics to, we have overcome.

Now, of course, that was in '65. And there has still been a lot to do in the 55 years since. But in the passage of those several days, the country on ABC saw Bloody Sunday. ABC broke into their programming to show the beating of these nonviolent protesters simply affirming their right to vote.

And that is what launched protests in dozens of cities across the country, where we saw banners that said, we stand with Selma. And when they came here to this city, there were thousands of people from across this state, from outside of the state, waiting for them and had gathered and grown that crowd.

Now, when we see those Alabama state troopers today, rose petals on the bridge, of course that's not what they meant then, but that is symbolizing the progress of the state, still far to go. One more thing, Brian. That when people line this street, there will not be people simply here who are African-American and remember just the stand that he took in the '60s for black people for the right to vote, for dignity, for equality, but for the LGBTQ community as well.

He fought for the Native Americans' right to vote as he saw that being challenged. He stood for, as we said, greater gun control across this country as we saw the state of mass shootings throughout America. So, there will be people here of all races, of all colors, same gender- loving people, who are coming here to pay tribute to a man who stood for the dignity of all.

Not just black people in this country. But the dignity of all whenever he saw something that was infringing upon that. Not just when you see something that's happening to black people do something, but when you see something, do something, and that was not limited to any specific demographic.

STELTER: Victor Blackwell in Montgomery who is at the Capitol building named for George Wallace, the Alabama governor who vowed never to integrate. I think we should remember this history. This is not ancient history. And this history, some of the stains of this history, they are still with us, they are still close to us, they are still etched into the buildings that we walk in and out of some days.

Victor, I really appreciate your point about the impact of the television coverage of Bloody Sunday. John Lewis often credited the media, the broadcast television networks with being there, with taking their own risks, to have their cameras there and to broadcast the pictures to the country.

There's a wonderful book called "The Race Beat" that describes the importance of the press in making white America pay attention to the injustices that were taking place, especially in the south. And I think that's partly why Lewis was a friend of the press and understood the power of pictures all throughout his career. You know, the importance of crossing the bridge every march, for example. Recreating the march as a way to draw attention to this ongoing movement, this ongoing issue.

BLACKWELL: Yes, when ABC broke into the -- it was airing the trial of Nuremberg then and they broke in to show this picture of what was happening in the American south, to show exactly what was happening here for people who were just trying to get voting rights. You know, Lyndon Johnson said that he couldn't pass the legislation of the early to mid '60s so King and Hosea Williams who was there at the bridge, Lewis as well, A. Philip Randolph, they would have to go out and make him do it and part of that was the use of the media.

It was to show nonviolent protesters sitting at lunch counters simply affirming the right to sit and have a meal. To be accommodated in the south. That pushed a large part of the country to come to the realization potentially of things they did not know or were conveniently ignoring.

[11:50:08]

I also want to speak about -- you talked about the history literally being etched into the building. When John Lewis comes here to the Capitol he will be not far from an actual plaque in the floor of the Alabama Capitol that marks the place that Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the president of the confederacy.

So, when you talk about history being literally etched into the floor, those two, the Congressman on the (INAUDIBLE) being honored in the rotunda and a space where created the secessionist movement out of this country in 1861 will be so close together. We know that the secession convention happened here. The confederacy created for the perpetuation of the fallacy of white supremacy. And it was John Lewis who walked from Selma to this city to talk about the equality of black people.

The history is all around us. And it is no accident --

STELTER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: -- that that man, Congressman Lewis, will be honored here in this space.

STELTER: This horse-drawn caisson is turning the corner now onto Broad Street into Selma. And we can see mourners on both sides of the street, lining the street, waves of them to see this moment. There is a hearse travelling behind this horse-drawn carriage. And after this final crossing of the bridge the body of Congressman Lewis will be transferred into that hearse for the drive to Montgomery where Victor has been speaking.

We'll see here from above, a town that looks a lot like it did in 1965. A town that is not been exempt from its own struggles, its own economic challenges, but because of the acts of bravery of men and women like Congressman Lewis, tourists from across the country and around the world do flock to this city to stand in the place of greatness, stand in the place of courage.

We're going to pause as this crossing happens but Martin Savidge is right there where this casket is passing. Martin, what are you seeing?

SAVIDGE: Right. The streets are lined. Most people are paying their respect. You can perhaps hear some have broken out in song, hymn. And they are just in their own minds and their own ways remembering John Lewis.

The casket has stopped for a moment at the intersection here of Water and Broad Street. And it's the realization that this is just at the point where the demonstrators would have been on Bloody Sunday. Preparing, they thought to be arrested, not to be confronted, beaten and nearly killed.

There is a lot in this moment that goes well beyond just remembering the life of a man at the turning point that he helped to bring about. For the most part people are silent. They want to capture and remember this moment and now they begin their way across.

The name sake of this bridge, Edmund Pettus was a confederate general and a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama. But this is a bridge now known for John Lewis, for his contributions to America. And this is his final crossing.

Two black horses carrying this caisson across the bridge, alone. And when this carriage reaches the top, there will be a momentum of silence.

[11:55:54]

The final crossing of Congressman John Lewis en route to Montgomery, Alabama. Part of a six-day celebration of life for the moral conscience of Congress.