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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Funeral Service for Civil Rights Icon, Congressman John Lewis. Aired 11:30a-12p ET
Aired July 30, 2020 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK, SENIOR PASTOR, EBENEZER BAPTIST CHURCH: Thanks for saying that.
TYBRE FAW, FRIEND OF JOHN LEWIS: This is John Lewis' favorite poem, "Invictus."
Out of the night that covers me, a pit from pole to pole, I think whatever God may be for my unconquerable soul. And the fellow clutches of circumstances, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody, but I'm bowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears looms but the horror of the shade. And yet menace of the years finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how straight the gaze, how charged with punishment the scroll. I'm the master of my fate, I'm the captain of my soul.
John Lewis was my hero and my friend. Let's honor him by getting in good trouble.
WARNOCK: Only the unconjurable spirit and the magnanimous soul of John Lewis could summon us together at this place at this time. Only John Lewis could compel three living American presidents to come to this house of God --
WARNOCK: -- to celebrate his life.
WARNOCK: We are grateful that all of them are here. The Honorable George W. Bush --
WARNOCK: -- who was president the last time we authorized a Voting Rights Act.
WARNOCK: The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton.
WARNOCK: And in just a little while, we'll hear from the Honorable Barack Obama.
WARNOCK: But the program will proceed as printed. President Bush, President Clinton, speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and --
WARNOCK: -- and another living saint among us, teacher and activist, the Reverend James Lawson.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning.
CROWD: Good morning.
BUSH: Distinguished guests, John Miles, the Lewis family and friends, Laura and I thank you for inviting us to be here today.
John's story began on a tiny farm in Troy, Alabama, a place so small that he said you could barely find it on the map. Dr. Winlock (ph) talked about the chickens.
I did a little research. Every morning, he would rise before the sun to tend to the flock of chickens. He loved those chickens.
Already called to be a minister who took care of others, John fed them and tended to their every need. Even their spiritual ones. When John baptized them, he married them and he preached to them.
BUSH: When his parents claimed one for family supper, John refused to eat one of his flock. Going hungry was his first act of nonviolent protest.
(LAUGHTER) BUSH: He also noted in later years that his first congregation of chickens listened to him more closely than some of his leagues in Congress.
BUSH: John also thought that the chickens were just a little more productive. At least they produced eggs, he said.
BUSH: From Troy to the sit-ins of Nashville, from the freedom rides to the march on Washington, from freedom summer to Selma, John Lewis all looked outward, not inward.
He always thought of others. He always believed in preaching the gospel in word and in deed. Insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope.
John Lewis believed in the Lord. He believed in humanity. And he believed in America.
He's been called an American saint, a believer, willing to give up everything, even life itself to bear witness to the truth that drove him all his life, that we could build a world of peace and justice, harmony and dignity and love.
And the first crucial step on that journey was the recognition that all people are born in the image of God and carry a spark of the divine within them.
Laura and I were privileged to see that spark in John up close. We worked with him to bring the National Museum of African-American History and Culture to the Washington Mall.
He was instrumental in the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act, which I signed, to seek resolution in cases where justice had been too long denied.
And we will never forget joining him in Selma, Alabama, for the 50th anniversary of his march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge where we got to watch President Barack Obama thank John as one of his heroes.
BUSH: There's a story in the old scriptures that meant a lot to John. In the Hebrew Bible, the Lord is looking for a prophet. Whom shall I send, God wonders, and who will go for us. Isaiah answers, here am I. Send me.
John Lewis heard that call a long time ago in segregated Alabama. And he took up the work of the Lord through all his days. His lesson for us it is that we must all keep ourselves open to the hearing -- open to hearing the call of love, the call of service and a call to sacrifice for others. Listen, John and I had our disagreements, of course. But in the
America John Lewis fought for, and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.
BUSH: We, the people, including congressman and presidents, can have differing views on how to perfect our union while sharing the conviction that our nation, however flawed, is at heart a good and noble one.
We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis and his abiding faith in the power of God, in the power of democracy, and in the power of love to lift us all to a higher ground.
The story that began in Troy isn't ending here today, nor is the work. John Lewis lives forever in his Father's house. And he will live forever in the hearts of Americans who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.
May the flights of angels see John Lewis to his rest. And may God bless the country he loved.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
CLINTON: Thank you very much.
First, I thank John Miles and the Lewis family and John's incomparable staff for a chance to say a few words about a man I've loved for a long time.
I am grateful, Pastor Warnock, to say it in Ebenezer, a holy place sanctified by both the faith and the works of those who have worshipped here.
I thank my friend, Reverend Bernice King, who stood by my side and gave a fascinating sermon in one of the most challenging periods of my life.
I thank President and Mrs. Bush, President Obama and Speaker Pelosi. Thank you. And Representative Hoyer and Representative Clyburn, who I really thank for, with the stroke of a hand, ending an intrafamily fight within our party, proving that peace is needed by everyone.
Madam Mayor, thank you. You have faced more than a fair share of challenges in these last few months, and you have faced them with candor and dignity and honor. And I thank you for your leadership.
CLINTON: I must say, for a fellow who got his start speaking to chickens, John's gotten a pretty finely orchestrated and deeply deserved sendoff this last week.
CLINTON: His home-going has been something to behold.
CLINTON: I think it's important that all of us who loved him remember that he was, after all, a human being, a man like all other humans, born with strengths that he made the most of when many don't, born with weaknesses that he worked hard to beat down when many can't. But still a person.
It made him more interesting, and it made him, in my mind, even greater.
Twenty years ago, we celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Selma march, and we walked together along with Coretta and many others from the movement who are no longer with us. We're grateful for Andy Young and Reverend Jackson and Diane Nash and many others who survived.
But on that day I got him to replay for me a story he told me when we first met back in the 1970s. I said -- you know, I was an aspiring whatever, southern politician and hadn't been elected governor and he was already a legend.
I said, John, what's the closest you ever got to being killed doing this.
He said, once we were at a demonstration and I got knocked down on the ground and people were getting beat up pretty bad. And, all of a sudden, I looked up and there was a man carrying a long, heavy piece of pipe and he lifted it and was clearly going to bring it down into my skull. And at the very last second, I turned away and the crowd pushed him. A couple of seconds later, I couldn't believe I was still alive.
I think it's important to remember that. First, because he was a quick thinker and, secondly, because he was here on a mission that was bigger than personal ambition. Things like that sometimes just happen but usually they don't.
I think three things happened to John Lewis long before we met and became friends that made him who he was. First, the famous story of John at four with his cousins and siblings, holding his aunt's hand, more than a dozen of them, running around a little old wooden house as the wind threatened to blow the house off its moorings. Going to the place where the house was rising, and all of the tiny
bodies trying to weigh it down. I think he learned something about the power of working together. Something that was more powerful than any instruction.
Second, nearly 20 years later, when he was 23, the youngest speaker and the last speaker at the march on Washington, when he gave a great speech urging people to take to the streets across the south to seize the chance to finally end racism.
And he listened to people that he knew had the same goals to say, well, we have to be careful how we say this because we're trying to get converts, not more adversaries.
Just three years later, he lost the leadership of SNCC to Stokely Carmichael. Because he said, you know, I'd really -- I mean, it was a pretty good job for a guy that young and come from Troy, Alabama. It must have been painful to lose.
But he showed as a young man there's some things that you cannot do to hang on to a position because, if you do them, you won't be who you are anymore.
And I say there were two or three years there where the movement went a little bit too far towards Stokely. But in the end, John Lewis prevailed.
We are here today because he had the kind of character he showed when he lost an election.
CLINTON: Then there was Bloody Sunday. He figured he might get arrested. And this is really important not to -- for all the rhapsodic things we believe about John Lewis, he had a good mind in figuring out, how can I make the most of every single moment.
So he's getting ready to march from Selma to Montgomery. He wants to get across the bridge. What do we remember? He made a -- quite a strange figure. He has a trench coat and a backpack.
Now young people probably think that's no big deal but there were too many backpacks back then. And you never saw anybody in a trench coat looking halfway dressed up with a backpack.
But John put an apple, an orange, a toothbrush, toothpaste in the backpack to take care of his body because he figured he would get arrested.
And two books, one a book by Richard Hopstetter on America's political tradition, to fee his mind, and one, "The Autobiography of Thomas Merton," a Roman Catholic Trappist monk, who was the son of itinerant artists making an astonish personal transformation. What's a young guy who is about to get his brains beat out and
planning to go to prison doing taking that? I think he figured that if Thomas Merton could find his way and keep his faith and believe in the future, he, John Lewis, could, too.
CLINTON: And --
CLINTON: So we honor our friend for his faith and for living his faith, which the scripture says is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.
John Lewis was a walking rebuke to people who thought, well, we ain't there yet and we have been working a long time. Isn't it time to bag it?
He kept moving. He hoped for and imagined and lived and worked and moved for his beloved community.
He took a savage beating on more than one day. And he lost that backpack on Bloody Sunday. Nobody ever knows what happened to it. Maybe someday someone will be stricken with conscience and give some of it back.
But what it represented never disappeared from John Lewis's spirit.
We honor that memory together, as a child, he learned to walk with the wind, to march with others, to save a tiny house. Because, as a young man, he challenged others to join him with love and dignity to hold America's house down and open the doors of America to all its people.
We honor him because, in Selma, on the third attempt, John and his comrades showed that sometimes you have to walk into the wind along with it. As he crossed the bridge and marched into Montgomery. But no matter what, John always kept walking to reach the beloved community.
He got into a lot of good trouble along the way. But let's not forget he also developed an absolutely uncanny ability to heal troubled waters.
When he could have been angry and determined to cancel his adversaries, he tried to get converts instead. He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist.
He lived by the faith and promise of St. Paul, let us not grow weary in doing good for, in due season, we will reap if we do not lose heart. He never lost heart. He fought the good fight. He kept the faith.
But we got our last letter today on the pages of the "New York Times": "Keep Moving." It is so fitting on the day of his service he leaves us our marching orders: Keep moving.
Twenty years ago, when I came here after the Selma march to a big dinner honoring John and Lillian and John Miles, you had a big afro.
CLINTON: And it was really pretty.
CLINTON: And your daddy was giving you grief about it. I said, John, let's not get too old too soon. If I had hair like that, I'd have it down to my shoulders.
CLINTON: But on that night, I was almost out of time and people were -- to be president, people asked me, well, if you could do one more thing, what would it be, or what do you wish you would have done and all that kind of stuff.