Lewis, who died on July 17, said in 2017 that he did not see Donald Trump as "a legitimate president"

By Benjamin VanHoose
July 27, 2020 09:17 PM
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Rep. John Lewis was honored with a lying in state public viewing on Monday, a prestigious ceremony from which President Donald Trump was notably absent.

Lewis became the first Black lawmaker to receive the honor, an American tradition that memorializes late government officials in Washington, D.C. Among those in attendance to pay their respects to the civil rights icon — who died on July 17 at age 80 — were Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Second Lady Karen Pence, along with former Vice President Joe Biden and former Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

Photos from the ceremony showed the Pences standing behind Lewis' casket at the Capitol East Front Steps to pay their respects.

In a statement the day after Lewis' death, the vice president said the congressman "was a great man whose courage and decades of public service changed America forever, and he will be deeply missed."

Calling Lewis an "icon of the civil rights movement," Pence also called him "a colleague and a friend."

"Even when we differed, John was always unfailingly kind and my family and I will never forget the privilege of crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge at his side on the 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday," Pence's statement said.

In their own statement after Lewis' death, the Bidens said that "John’s life reminds us that the most powerful symbol of what it means to be an American is what we do with the time we have to make real the promise of our nation — that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally."

Trump, 74, told reporters that he would not be attending the ceremony for Lewis on Monday, though he did not give a reason, USA Today reported. Trump left Monday afternoon for North Carolina to visit a facility where work is being done on a possible vaccine for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Mike and Karen Pence (center, from left)
| Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
From left: Jill and Joe Biden
| Credit: Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty

Trump had a contentious relationship with Lewis prior to the longtime Georgia congressman's death.

Back in January 2017, during Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, Trump trashed Lewis on Twitter, accusing him of being “all talk ” and “no action or results.” Lewis did not shy away from voicing his disapproval of Trump, either, explaining to NBC News at the time why he would not be attending his inauguration — the first he missed in three decades.

“I don’t see this President-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said at the time. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

Lewis — a Democratic representative and former “freedom rider” — had a long history of political action. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the peaceful 1965 voting rights protest on Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama — where he was beaten by a state trooper who fractured his skull.

Mike and Karen Pence (center, from left)
| Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
From left: Jill and Joe Biden
| Credit: Shutterstock

On Sunday, the body of Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge one last time during an event called "The Final Crossing" as part of the ongoing memorial services honoring him. Armed Forces Body Bearers placed the late Georgia congressman onto a horse-drawn caisson to take him across the bridge from Selma to Montgomery.

"His final march, that final crossing, so different than the first, speaks to the legacy that he leaves behind and the lives that he changed,” Rep. Terri Sewell said on Sunday, according to NBC News. "It’s poetic justice that this time, Alabama state troopers will see John to his safety. "

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Rep. John Lewis in 2017
| Credit: Getty Images

The series of memorials in honor of Lewis began in Troy, Alabama, on Saturday, bringing together family, friends and colleagues to remember him. The so-called "The Boy From Troy" memorial was held at Troy University in his hometown, NBC News reported. Four of Lewis' siblings spoke at the memorial as well as Lewis' 7-year-old great-nephew Jackson Lewis, who remembered him as a "hero."

Troy Mayor Jason Reeves said Lewis had "come home" and celebrated the late politician for being the "conscience of Congress" and having "otherworldly courage."

One of Lewis' sisters, Rosa Tyner, recalled his "never-ending desire to help others," saying: "He often told us, ‘If you see something wrong, do something.’ His actions showed us just that. In a time when going to jail was perceived as trouble, he reminded us that it was good trouble. Necessary trouble."