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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Live Coverage as Former President Barack Obama Delivers John Lewis Eulogy; Singing by BeBe and Marvin Winans; Prayer by Senior Pastor Raphael Warnock. Aired 2-2:38p ET
Aired July 30, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So many of us lose that sense. It's taught out of us. We start feeling as if, in fact, we can't afford to extend kindness or decency to other people, that we're better off if we're above other people and looking down on them. And so often that's encouraged in our culture.
But John always said -- he always saw the best in us, and he never gave up and never stopped speaking out because he saw the best in us. He believed in us, even when we didn't believe in ourselves.
And as a congressman, he didn't rest. He kept getting himself arrested.
As an old man, he didn't sit out any fight, sat in all night long on the floor of the United States Capitol. I know his staff was stressed.
But the testing of his faith produced perseverance. He knew that the march is not over, that the race is not yet won, that we have not yet reached that blessed destination, where we are judged by the content of our character.
He knew from his own life that progress is fragile, that we have to be vigilant against the darker currents of this country's history, of our own history, where there are whirlpools of violence and hatred and despair that can always rise again.
Bull Connor may be gone, but today we witness, with our own eyes, police officers kneeling on the necks of black Americans. George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.
We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws -- (APPLAUSE)
-- and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that's going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don't get sick.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Preach.
OBAMA: I know this is a celebration of John's life, there are some who might say we shouldn't dwell on such things. But that's why I'm talking about it. John Lewis devoted his time on this Earth, fighting the very attacks on democracy and what's best in America that we're seeing circulate right now.
He knew that every single one of us has a God-given power, and that the fate of this democracy depends on how we use it, that democracy isn't automatic, it has to be nurtured, it has to be tended to. We have to work at it, it's hard.
And so he knew that it depends on whether we summon a measure -- just a measure -- of John's moral courage, to question what's right and what's wrong, and call things as they are. He said that as long as he had a breath in his body, he would do everything he could to preserve this democracy. And as long as we have breath in our bodies, we have to continue his cause.
If we want our children to grow up in a democracy -- not just with elections, but a true democracy, a representative democracy -- in a big-hearted, tolerant, vibrant, inclusive America of perpetual self- creation, then we're going to have to be more like John. We don't have to do all the things he had to do, because he did them for us. But we got to do something.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right, you're (ph) right.
OBAMA: As the Lord instructed Paul, "Do not be afraid. Go on speaking. Do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you for I have many in this city who are my people."
It's just, everybody's got to come out and vote. We got all those people in the city, but they can't do nothing. Like John, we've got to keep getting into that good trouble. He knew that nonviolent protest is patriotic, a way to raise public awareness and put a spotlight on injustice and make the powers that be uncomfortable.
Like John, we don't have to choose between protests and politics. It's not an either-or situation, it's a both-and situation. We have to engage in protests where that's effective, but we also have to translate our passion and our causes into laws, institutional practices. That's why John ran for Congress, 34 years ago. Like John, we've got to fight even harder for the most powerful tool that we have, which is the right to vote.
The Voting Rights Act is one of the crowning achievements of our democracy. It's why John crossed that bridge, it's why he spilled his blood. And, by the way, it was the result of Democratic and Republican efforts. President Bush -- who spoke here earlier -- and his father, signed its renewal when they were in office.
President Clinton didn't have to, because it was the law when he arrived. So instead, he made a law to make it easier for people to register to vote.
But once the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act, some state legislators unleashed a flood of laws designed specifically to make voting harder -- especially, by the way, state legislators where there's a lot of minority turnout and population growth. That's not necessarily a mystery or an accident.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, sir.
OBAMA: It was an attack on what John fought for, it was an attack on our democratic freedoms, and we should treat it as such.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right.
OBAMA: If politicians want to honor John -- and I'm so grateful for the legacy and work of all the congressional leaders who are here, but -- there's a better way than a statement calling him a hero.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
OBAMA: You want to honor John? Let's honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for.
And by the way, naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that is a fine tribute. But John wouldn't want us to stop there, just trying to get back to where we already were.
Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better --
-- by making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who've earned their second chance.
By adding polling places and expanding early voting and making Election Day a national holiday, so if you are somebody who's working in a factory or you're a single mom, who's got to go to her job and doesn't get time off, you can still cast your ballot.
By guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, D.C., and in Puerto Rico -- they're Americans.
By ending some of the partisan gerrymandering, so that all voters have the power to choose their politicians, not the other way around. And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster -- another Jim Crow relic -- in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that's what we should do.
Now, even if we do all this, even if every bogus voter suppression law is struck off the books today, we've got to be honest with ourselves, that too many of us choose not to exercise the franchise.
Too many of our citizens believe their vote won't make a difference, or they buy into the cynicism -- that, by the way, is the central strategy of voter suppression -- to make you discouraged, to stop believing in your own power.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right.
OBAMA: So we're also going to have to remember what John said. If you don't do everything you can do to change things, then they will remain the same. You only pass this way once. You have to give it all you have.
As long as young people are protesting in the streets, hoping real change takes hold, I'm hopeful. But we can't casually abandon them at the ballot box, not when few elections have been as urgent on so many levels as this one. We can't treat voting as an errand to run if we have some time. We have to treat it as the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy. And, like John, we have to give it all we have.
I was proud that John Lewis was a friend of mine. I met him when I was in law school, he came to speak.
And I went up and I said, Mr. Lewis, you are one of my heroes. What inspired me more than anything as a young man was to see what you and Reverend Lawson, Bob Moses, Diane Nash, and others did.
And he got that kind of, aw shucks, thank you very much.
Next time I saw him, I'd been elected to the United States Senate. And I told him, John, I'm here because of you.
And on Inauguration Day in 2008 -- 2009, he was one of the first people I greeted and hugged on that stand. And I told him, this is your day, too.
He was a good and kind and gentle man. And he believed in us, even when we don't believe in ourselves. And it's fitting that the last time John and I shared a public forum, was on Zoom. And I'm pretty sure neither he nor I set up the Zoom call, because we didn't know how to work it.
It was a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists, who had been helping to lead this summer's demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd's death.
And afterwards, I spoke to John privately. And he could not have been prouder to see this new generation of activists, standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation that was intent on voting and protecting the right to vote. In some cases, a new generation running for political office.
And I told him, all those young people, John, of every race and every religion, from every background and gender and sexual orientation, John, those are your children. They learned from your example, even if they didn't always know it. They had understood, through him, what American citizenship requires, even if they'd only heard about his courage through the history books.
By the thousands, faceless, anonymous, relentless young people, black and white, "have taken our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy, which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence." Dr. King said that in the 1960s, and it came true again this summer.
We see it outside our windows in big cities and rural towns, in men and women, young and old, straight Americans and LGBTQ Americans, blacks, who long for equal treatment, and whites, who can no longer accept freedom for themselves while witnessing the subjugation of their fellow Americans.
We see it in everybody doing the hard work of overcoming complacency, of overcoming our own fears and our own prejudices, our own hatreds. You see it in people trying to be better, truer versions of ourselves.
And that's what John Lewis teaches us. That's where real courage comes from: not from turning on each other, but by turning towards one another; not by sowing hatred and division, but by spreading love and truth; not by avoiding our responsibilities to create a better America and a better world, but by embracing those responsibilities with joy and perseverance, and discovering that, in our beloved community, we do not walk alone.
What a gift John Lewis was. We are all so lucky to have had him walk with us for a while and show us the way. God bless you all. God bless America. God bless this gentle soul, who pulled it closer to its promise. Thank you very much.
MARVIN WINANS, PASTOR, PERFECTING CHURCH: Thank you so much. We are honored to be here. I would like to thank Brother Michael Collins for, about a week before the congressman passed, he called Bebe and so BeBe and I and my sister CeCe, we had an opportunity to sing to him.
And one of the songs -- we sang songs differently -- but the one song I'd like for everyone that would, would just join in with me when I sing.
AUDIENCE (singing): We shall overcome, we shall overcome. We shall overcome some day. Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome some day.
Upon hearing that, I heard that he opened his eyes because that was the song that led and was the heart of those marches.
M. WINANS: My brother BeBe has written another song to the memory of Uncle Robert, as you (ph) called him, because he treated us all like family. And I hope you enjoy it.
BEBE WINANS, SINGER (singing): Born in Troy, Alabama -- born in Troy, Alabama, to Eddie and Willie Mae, sharecroppers working in the heat of the day -- yes, they were.
M. WINANS (singing): He knew there was much more, so he asked the Lord to show --
B. WINANS (singing): Yes, he did.
M. WINANS (singing): All he achieved in his life, you (ph) already know.
B. WINANS (singing): That he was there when you called him a-hurting (ph), tell you the truth, don't you worry.
M. WINANS (singing): He was willing to fight in the struggle, and he was willing to get into trouble.
B. WINANS (singing): Yes, he was. Yes, he was.
M. WINANS, B. WINANS (singing): He was willing to get into trouble.
M. WINANS (singing): He took on the wrongs of this world, like Civil and voting rights. No matter the problems he faced, he kept his eyes on the prize.
B. WINANS (singing): And then he learned to walk proud (ph) faith, and believe God until the end -- yes, he did. And knew we would overcome, and love is going to win. M. WINANS (singing): He was there when you called, don't you worry. He'd tell the truth in a hurry, yes.
B. WINANS (singing): He was willing to fight for the struggle, and willing to get into trouble.
Yes, he was. Yes, he was.
M. WINANS, B. WINANS (singing): Willing to get into trouble.
B. WINANS (singing): And as you put on your robe to go home, we will continue the fight and be strong.
M. WINANS (singing): As you put on your robe to go home, we'll continue to fight, continue.
B. WINANS (singing): He was there when you called in a hurry, he'd tell you the truth --
M. WINANS (singing): Don't you worry.
B. WINANS (singing): He was willing to fight for the struggle --
M. WINANS (singing): -- and he was willing to get into trouble.
M. WINANS, B. WINANS (singing): He was willing to fight, he was ready to fight, he was willing to get into trouble. He was willing to fight, he was ready to fight, he was willing to get into trouble. He was willing to fight, ready to fight, he was willing to get into trouble. Willing to fight, ready to fight, he was willing to get into trouble. Willing to fight, ready to fight, he was willing to get into trouble. He was willing to fight, ready to fight, he was willing to get into trouble. Willing to fight --
B. WINANS (singing): Thank you for sacrificing --
M. WINANS, B. WINANS (singing): -- ready to fight, he was willing to get into trouble. He was willing to fight -- we should be -- ready to fight, and willing to get into trouble.
RAPHAEL WARNOCK, SENIOR PASTOR, EBENEZER BAPTIST CHURCH: Let us pray.
And when he shall die, take him and cut him into stars. He shall make the face of heaven so fine, that all the world will grow in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish sun.
Gracious and loving God, we commend into your safety the soul of your son, John Robert Lewis. You've seen the affidavit of his deeds; yes, he stayed in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble. He fought the good fight. He finished his course, he kept the faith.
And now, henceforth, is laid up for him a crown of righteousness. But not only to him, but to all those who love God's appearing. Now, part of a great, mighty cloud of witnesses is he, these are they who have gone through the great tribulation. They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.
The angels rejoice because he has been vindicated by history, his deeds etched into eternity, and his soul received into your glory.
In the name of the God who loves us into freedom, and frees us into loving, through Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray, Amen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We pray that today was a memorable worship experience for all of you.
Now he'll greet the family along with Reverend Dr. Bernice King. And then we will follow the Department of Defense's instructions as they carry out our Representative Lewis.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You all stand.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The family may remain seated. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED SERVICEMEMBER: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED SERVICEMEMBER: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this time, as we prepare to depart, we ask the members of Congress, the extended family, and special invited guests join with us as we enjoy the viral video of our honorable John Robert Lewis dancing to his favorite song by Pharrell Williams (sic), entitled "Happy."
This is an opportunity for all of us to enjoy this worship experience and join in and dance with him and clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
UNIDENTIFIED SERVICEMEMBER: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED SERVICEMEMBER: (INAUDIBLE)