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The Late Civil Rights Icon, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) Motorcade Makes Way To Capitol. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired July 27, 2020 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And look at what he's done and look at where we are as a country.
We have a long way to go. But we have a road map now that he didn't have. We have examples that I can go from being a demonstrator to a legislator, from a rabble-rouser to a bridge builder that he didn't have in the same way that we have. And it's just -- it's a beautiful day to see him get his just reward.
And Diane Nash is watching. Luckily, Diane Nash is still alive who marched with him in Nashville when they were just kids. She is still watching. So it's a powerful day.
JOHN KING, CNN HOST: It is a powerful day indeed. The hearse carrying John Lewis at Black Lives Matter Plaza here in Washington, D.C. at the White House right ahead of it, the Washington Monument behind it. It has been an honor and a privilege to be with you these last two hours if you watched since it played out.
Brianna Keilar picks up the coverage right now.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Thank you so much, to John King. I am Brianna Keilar and I want welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world as we're watching this special live coverage right now, the nation's tribute to Congressman and Civil Rights Icon John Lewis. This is the third day, the third of six days of memorial services for the man known as the conscience of the Congress. And, indeed, he was the conscience of the country.
The congressman's casket is set to arrive at Capitol Plaza. Any moment now, you see right now this processional heading toward the capitol, away from the White House. He will be lying in state at the U.S. Capitol following a ceremony, which is set to begin shortly.
This motorcade has been carrying Lewis and his family through the streets of Washington, D.C. where he served our country and Congress for more than three decades. The motorcade has been pausing at key spots, including a short time ago at the memorial to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who was Congressman Lewis' beloved mentor and close friend.
And it just stopped at Black Lives Matter Plaza where Congressman Lewis actually made his last public appearance just a few weeks ago. There was, of course, an incredible moment yesterday in Selma, Alabama, as his flag-draped casket crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the final time. The road there having been strewn with red rose petals. It is the same bridge where he was beaten as he marched for the rights of African-Americans to vote.
And as these six days of memorial services began Saturday in Lewis' hometown of Troy, one of his brothers recalled how even in his final moments the congressman wanted to know how his family was doing.
So you're watching the procession here. John Lewis heading toward the Capitol where he is going to lie in state and be honored by so many people, Democrats and Republicans, honoring everything that he has accomplished for the country over decades at really a time that is just a lot of people, of course, trying to make sense of the racial reckoning that is going on in the country and reflecting back on John Lewis' roots as they do that.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was very close to Congressman John Lewis. She was at Joint Base Andrews this morning to greet the plane that was carrying his remains and his family. She and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will been addressing invited members of Congress at the arrival ceremony very soon. You can see here the processional heading toward the Washington Monument.
And I want to bring in Joe Johns. Joe, I know that you have been following this route as John Lewis makes his way to the Capitol. Tell us your thoughts on this day.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's personal because I knew John Lewis from my years up on Capitol Hill. And it is a very sad day but it's also, in some ways, heartening just simply because this is a torch-passing, if you will, of the torch of activism from this man who was one of the big six, as they called them, in the civil rights movement to Congress and now to the younger generations of activists.
The people who appeared right here not long ago on Black Lives Matter Plaza and essentially took it over until that point when the president of the United States was leaving the white house, had it cleared of peaceful protesters so that he could go over to St. John's Episcopal Church to do what was essentially a photo-op holding a bible.
But it's not just that. It's also sort of if you look at John Lewis' life and his career, many people know that he was highly critical of President Trump. He called him a racist. He said his presidency was not legitimate. He boycotted the inauguration. But across John Lewis' career he, in fact, had many run-ins with a number of other presidents. He didn't go to George W. Bush's inauguration.
You have to go all the way back to the Lyndon Johnson administration, where at least I believe I find the first run-in he had with a president and that was over the best way to approach getting the Voting Rights Act through the Congress. So that sort of tells you how long this man has been doing what he's doing. He was at a time called radical. And now, perhaps still a radical, but not so much. And he stands tall in the legacy of civil rights leaders in the United States. Brooke?
KEILAR: It's a reminder, Joe, of like you said, he was considered a radical, right? He was someone who might, at one point, have caused a lot of Americans discomfort and now you look at the legacy, Joe, of John Lewis. I'm not sure if you can hear me, Joe. But you look at the --
JOHNS: Yes, I can hear you.
KEILAR: -- at the legacy of John Lewis and decades later his service, which you could, as you said also, argue, has been searching for radical change in the Congress. But history reflects back on that moment of him being someone who really shook things up. And history remembers him fondly. That sort of, I think, one of the lessons of what history says decades later about someone who was called a radical at the time.
JOHN: Right. And, you know -- and I'm sorry I called you Brooke but it's Brianna now that I hear your voice. Sorry about that.
The other thing that really stands out to me is, you know, he sort of made his chops on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC. And then if you look across the span of the years, those are the things he stood for, students.
He always connected with younger generations to try to lead them to fight for social justice. He was always non-violent even in the face of the most terrible moments, like down on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. And he was always coordinating. He was trying to bring people together for a cause.
So that's John in a nutshell and he carried that from year to year to year to year, whatever the issue was. And, again, it is just fascinating to see a man who was a living legend and to have had the opportunity to know him, understand how gentle he was but about how firm he was in his convictions. And that is what Washington and the country celebrates today.
KEILAR: Joe, thank you so much for that. I do want to now bring in CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and our Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash, who are both up on Capitol Hill for us.
Suzanne, first to you, as we are watching this procession through the streets of Washington, we see the Capitol there in the distance, which is where you and Dana are. Tell us what is going to be happening throughout the rest of this day.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, a very special occasion and obviously a great deal of anticipation here, a celebration, a day of joy as well as mourning. As you know, these type of events are planned down to the minute. It is running a little bit late but, again, they have already begun to assemble here on Capitol Hill. The members of the congressional black caucus has been escorted to their places in Statuary Hall.
And you will see the leadership here who will speak very forcefully and very emotionally about their colleague and friend of three decades, Congressman John Lewis really bringing that brand of activism and passion here to Washington, and, really, being the conscience of Congress, as we have heard over and over again.
And this was somebody -- you talked to lawmakers and family and friends and they will tell you that this -- what made him so special and unique before he even stepped on these grounds was the fact that he put his body behind his beliefs, that he was able time after time after time to do that, to sacrifice himself. There were so many people as a part of the civil rights movement who played a role but there were few people who were able to do that time and time again.
And that is something that many people recall.
And so he had a sense of purpose here that was really not compared to anybody on Capitol Hill and that both Republicans and Democrats alike really believe and think so fondly of who he was and what he became.
And so what you will see in the moments ahead playing out in the next 20 minutes, they're still quite a way that the motorcade has some stops to make. But when the motorcade and family and hearse does arrive here, they will escort the family, they will be taken inside.
And you will have a private ceremony, a private viewing starting and you will have House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with the invocation. You will have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will be speaking, as well, Amazing Grace.
You will also have the benediction from the whip, James Clyburn, a very personal and close friend of Congressman Lewis just to name a few people who will be here. This is an invitation-only.
Once the family has viewed the body, once the ceremony has concluded, they will escort the family away and then it will be open for other Congress members to pay respects. They will go in formation, an alphabetical order, group by group, so that they can go ahead and go by the casket to pay their respects.
And then it will be later this afternoon that it will be about 6:00 or so they will remove the casket from inside the rotunda. It will be out here for the public to see, a special viewing. This is really a break from protocol from what we have seen before and it is because of social distancing that is required, the coronavirus.
There are very, very strict rules that will be in place for the public viewing, six feet apart at least. Everyone who gets in that line will have to wear a mask as they approach. It is very, very hot. There has been an emergency, I guess, announcement, if you will, from the D.C. mayor warning people about this heat, to tell them to bring water, to be patient because, yes, we anticipate that it is going to be a very long and fruitful celebration as members of the public line up to pay their tributes, Brianna.
KEILAR: Suzanne, thank you so much.
And we are watching this procession, Congressman John Lewis' motorcade making the way, actually, just passed in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool. And it will be heading towards the Supreme Court here as it's making its way around the Capitol grounds.
And, Dana, you know, one of the things we just saw as the motorcade turned on to what I believe is 3rd Street there or one of the transverses over the National Mall, you saw police officers who were saluting him. And when you think of the images that you know that are so famous associated with John Lewis coming out of Selma, it is just such a sight to see this.
And it drives homes home, I think, so many of the complex emotions that go along with saying goodbye to someone like John Lewis, the emptiness that he leaves and yet the measure of this man is the inspiration that he sent out to so many people.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. I mean, we have seen so many of those images that are so poignant, particularly when you look at police officers. If you go back in time to 1965, they were state troopers who almost killed him with clubs, and how far things have come with John Lewis.
One thing I want to mention, and it was hard to see if they actually passed by it, but the plan was to pass by the African-American Museum on his way here to where I am on Capitol Hill. He -- the year he came in to Congress, he began to introduce legislation creating an African- American museum every single year for 15 years to no avail, and finally he got it done.
And they started building it. If that is not John Lewis, I don't know what is. He called it persistence -- being persistent and consistent, patience, patience, patience, but power. And getting that museum built, which, of course, has a lot of facts and information about his own legacy, never mind the entire African-American experience, was classic John Lewis.
The other thing that he had done on this route here to Capitol Hill, the Department of Justice, he made it a point to have it named after Robert F. Kennedy, one of the heroes in his political life who he worked for in 1968.
And I should tell you, here I am on Capitol Hill, I can see coming up Independence Avenue the motorcade with John Lewis, the procession, about to turn in to the Capitol Plaza.
And there's a small crowd but there are people here lined up to pay tribute to this man who meant so much to so many.
KEILAR: And, Dana, yes, it did go right by the African-American History Museum, which -- it's beautiful, it's unique and you cannot miss it, right? It is right there in the heart of the mall. If you are coming through Washington, you are driving by it.
And it is a testament to his efforts to make that such an important part of so many people's visits to the nation's capital and also just -- it's very -- you know, obviously, there have been some closures of museums but it's probably the most popular museum in Washington.
BASH: No question. And, Brianna, I just have to share a moment. The hearse just drove by. We are in -- this is a familiar place to you. We are in the Cannon Office building, which actually is John Lewis' office building on the balcony overlooking and that hearse just drove by, and -- I don't want to be too dramatic but the air changed. You could feel the significance of the moment when that happened here. It's something I'll never forget as we were talking. It was really remarkable, Brianna.
KEILAR: I think that, Dana, that was part of being around John Lewis, right, to be around someone who, especially for what he'd been through, had this air of calm about him. He was someone who had just, you know, stared sort of a threat right in the eye.
He had swallowed fear to make a difference and see so far into the future about what he and others wanted, loving their country but realizing it wasn't as they wanted it. And they needed for it to change. They needed for it to be a place where, you know, they were welcomed.
And it also drives home how far the country has to go, as well, that I think Americans are saying goodbye to him at this moment in time.
BASH: Absolutely. He is quoted as saying that he, because of everything that happened to him as a young man, lost all sense of fear. And he said when you lose fear, you're free. And you got that sense from him, that freedom of fear because he had been through so much at 23, being at one of the speakers on the National Mall, but more importantly, being clubbed death, almost to death on this Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, on the freedom rights being attacked, bloodied by members of the KKK, so on and so on and so on.
And after all of that, he had -- and maybe because of that and because internalized what he preached, he did have a lightness about him and it was infectious. And that is why people from all walks of life knew about him. When they encountered him here on Capitol Hill, it was like nothing you'd ever seen before because they knew they were in the presence of greatness.
KEILAR: Definitely. And, Dana, if you can stand by for me for just one moment, you know, the last public moment that we have of John Lewis is a very impactful photo where it is a poignant picture of him gazing at the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. And he is standing on the plaza as well with his mask on, another moment.
I want to bring in the man who took those photos, Gary Williams.
And, Gary, if you could tell us how that moment unfolded.
GARY WILLIAMS, PHOTOGRAPHER WHO CAPTURED LAST PUBLIC APPEARANCE OF REP. LEWIS: Oh, man. Thinking back -- well, first and foremost, sincere thoughts and prayers to Mr. Lewis' family. We definitely mourn the loss of his life but we absolutely celebrate the life he led and lived. So I just wanted to say that.
But this moment, I got a call from his chief of staff or email from his chief of staff the night before. And he mentioned that Mr. Lewis wanted to have a personal visit to Black Lives Matter Plaza before he headed back to Atlanta.
And so, you know, I got that email obviously, I said, of course, I'm there, whatever you need. And the next morning, we got up early and we weren't sure if Mr. Lewis was going to be able to make it because he had just undergone chemotherapy the night before and he was feeling a little weak.
But, again, to his strength not only physically but, you know, in his spirit, he made it bright and early that morning and he was able to have that moment. And I'm so thankful that he was able to have that moment and that I was there to capture that moment. So, you know, his family and friends, we have these images now.
KEILAR: It is. It is a beautiful image. And were you able -- I also think part of it is the full circle aspect of it, right?
KEILAR: And even if it is not everything coming full circle, it's this feeling of John Lewis passing a torch to a different movement.
WILLIAMS: No. I mean, totally correct. And I think he had his mask on that day so it was hard to kind of gauge his facial expression. But you could see as he stood up there and looked down on Black Lives Matter Plaza, you could see in his eyes it was a time of reflection for him. And I can imagine he was thinking back to all of the things that he had been through, you know?
And to sort of pave the way for this moment to even happen, but then also, thinking about how this fight has continued and how the work that he's done and many others of the civil rights movement have done, has kind of led the way for this moment to happen. And so I can just imagine he was reflecting all of that work that was put in that he had done, that his constituents had done and just -- it probably just came to a moment of full circle, like you said.
And I remember as he was leaving the plaza that day, someone asked him what this moment meant. And he said it was powerful. He said that this nation is sending a message to the rest of the world that we will get there. And I thought, wow, for him to have gone through all that he has gone through and to see this moment and for him to still have hope that we will one day get there.
And I think that's the spirit we have to take with us as we continue to fight, as we continue to push, as we continue to fight for racial equality, that we will get there and we cannot let up and we must be persistent just as Mr. Lewis was.
KEILAR: And, Gary, I just want to let our viewers know what they're watching as I do want to ask you another question about that moment.
KEILAR: But John Lewis, this procession is continuing around the Capitol grounds. John Lewis, the hearse carrying John Lewis will be heading to the Capitol. We are very close to his arrival at the Capitol. And he's there in the Capitol Plaza but he will be lying in state there in the Capitol and will be honored by colleagues of his and also future generations of members of Congress.
But. Gary, I wonder for you having captured that moment of him, essentially passing the torch, you know, coming so far as part of this struggle for equality, for black Americans, and yet, in a way, saying goodbye because there's a leg of this race that he obviously will not be running, you know? That is for a future generation. What do you want Americans to take away from that photo?
WILLIAMS: I think the photo speaks to his character. And as many have said, he was persistent but he also -- he practiced what he preached. He was a man that stood by his word. He was a man that didn't give up. In the face of all kinds of adversity, with being beaten within inches of his life, he still got back up and continued the fight.
And I think what we can learn from that is that there is no progress if we are afraid, if we are fearful of what may happen to us. We have to continue to go forward. We have to continue to fight. We have -- because we are not necessarily fighting for ourselves. We're fighting for those who are coming up after us.
And I just think about my children and the future I want them to have. And I'm sure Mr. Lewis thought about, you know, the future that he wanted all of Americans to have, but specifically, black Americans to have. And I'm sure that was often on the forefront of his mind, what can he do to make the future better for those that come after him.
And so, while he is not here with us physically, I assure you he is here with us in spirit. And I assure you, me and others will carry on this torch, will carry on this burden, will carry on this fight in his name and continue to get into some good trouble and hopefully, like he said, we'll get there.
KEILAR: Sir, thank you so much, Gary Williams Jr., we really appreciate you being with us to share some of those final moments with the congressman with us.
And we are remembering an icon. The casket of Congressman John Lewis has just arrived at the Capitol Plaza. This is on the east side of the Capitol.
I want to bring in Suzanne Malveaux. She is there on the Capitol grounds. And, Suzanne, this is where there are so many people waiting who have worked decades or maybe even just a short while with Congressman Lewis. Many newbies to Congress who came seeking counsel and guidance from him even in their early days as members in the House or in the Senate as well.
Give us your thoughts as we watch this moment here at the Capitol.
MALVEAUX: Well, Brianna, I can see the casket from the hearse just over my shoulder just a little bit in the distance there in the East Plaza. There are so many members of Congress and staffers, young people, as well as those who were participants in the civil rights movement who have lined up against the streets and to pay their tributes and respect.
But I have to tell you as well, Brianna, some people are just being introduced to John Lewis, the Congressman, some knew him for three decades. As a young girl who's the daughter of two parents who grew up in the segregated south who endured many of the indignities of the colored only water fountains of the women having to go to the hospital to the back entrance of a hospitals to give birth, the colored-only schools, the hand-me-downs, everybody knew John Lewis and who he was.
And our parents told us those stories so that we could remember, always remember, what life was like and how far we have come as a country and as individuals for John Lewis and for the fact that so many people gave so much. But John Lewis was a special kind of giver. He was somebody who was willing to sacrifice and put his life on the line for the cause. And for that reason, we grew up knowing John Lewis and who he was.
And so you can only imagine coming here and actually being able to cover Congressman Lewis as a lawmaker and as a leader in a totally different evolution of his life and his career, somebody who made good trouble and was in trouble and was arrested and put his, again, body on the line, if you will, in a different context, in a different way to make history for more than three decades as the conscience of Congress.
And that, too, was his evolution. That too was a part of who he was as an activist and taking that here to the nation's capital and making our leaders, our lawmakers and our presidents accountable for their own actions, holding a mirror up to each one of them in times when he felt that there needed to be a course correction, whether it was LGBTQ rights, whether it was immigration or gun control. These were the things that made Congressman Lewis very, very relevant as somebody who was speaking out even just last month at the Black Lives Matter Plaza.
I was there that weekend covering those protests, the peaceful protests. And his message was so very clear. There were people who had thought that perhaps it was just symbolism or the symbolism wasn't enough to see the emblazoned letters on the street criticized the D.C. mayor.
But Congressman Lewis wanted to make sure that those young people knew, as he always did in one of his favorite speeches, favorite stories he would tell, is about that meeting of the minds with A. Phillip Randolph and Martin Luther King before the evening, before the march on Washington and the "I Have a Dream" speech, the fact that he was able to compromise with his elders, elder statesmen in the civil rights movement and to take away, back off a little bit of that speech so that he would, out of respect, out of deference, to the Kennedy administration and to those civil rights leaders bridge that gap.