The farewell to Congressman John Lewis, the historic defender of civil rights in the United States, has begun at the site where his fight reached the highest point. This Sunday, the legislator’s funerals – passed away on July 17 at the age of 80 – have reached Selma (Alabama) and the float with his body has last crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the same place where Lewis protested in 1965 to demand the right to vote for African Americans. In that episode, known as the bloody SundayLewis suffered a fracture to the skull from the blows that the police distributed among the assistants.
Lewis was part of the Martin Luther King circle and through student organizations integrated various groups into the fight for civil rights. The march of that April 7, 1965, with its images of repression by the police, decisively changed the course of the movement: President Lyndon Johnson asked the US Congress to change the legislation to allow African Americans the right to vote. Lewis, then 25, was wearing a raincoat and carrying a backpack during the protest, and did not stop despite police firing tear gas.
This time, the bridge was covered with red rose petals and the coffin, wrapped in a United States flag, slowly crossed in a horse-drawn carriage. After the death of Congressman Lewis, various groups have asked that, from now on, the bridge be named after the legislator who fought for civil rights. The petition comes amid rising protests against racism across the country and also considering that its current name belongs to that of the Confederate Army officer Edmund Pettus whose vision, during the civil war, was in favor of African American slavery.
Lewis’s presence on the Selma Bridge was not only historic in 1965. The legislator repeated the stamp in March 2015, when he crossed the same bridge arm in arm with Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States to commemorate 50 years of the historic protest. Lewis won his seat in Congress in 1986 and remained in it, as representative of the State of Georgia, for 17 legislatures, until his death. The tributes will continue this week, first at the Capitol in Washington where a burning chapel will be held on Monday and Tuesday, and then a funeral in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday.