Presidents Bush, Clinton & Obama Reunite at Funeral for Civil Rights Icon Rep. John Lewis
President Donald Trump was not in attendance, while 95-year-old former President Jimmy Carter remained home
Lewis, 80, was the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington and was a prominent figure in many key moments during the civil rights movement. The Democratic lawmaker was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in December.
Bush, Clinton and Obama all spoke at Lewis' funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
“I was proud that John Lewis was a friend of mine," Obama, 58, said, adding later, “He treated everyone with kindness and respect, because it was innate to him—this idea that any of us could do what he did if we’re willing to persevere."
All three former presidents wore a blue ribbon on their suit jackets with a lapel pin showing a portrait of the congressman.
"He's been called a living saint," Bush, 74, said during his eulogy, which touched on Lewis' childhood in Troy, Alabama, and highlighted Lewis' life's work advancing civil rights.
Bush said "we live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis and his abiding faith in the power of God and the power of Democracy" and added that Lewis will "live forever in the hearts of Americans."
President Donald Trump was not in attendance for Lewis' funeral and the White House did not offer an explanation for his absence on the record. He previously skipped memorial events for Lewis in Washington, D.C.
A statement from them was read on their behalf instead.
The three living presidents in attendance — who, as former First Lady Michelle Obama has noted wryly before, usually reunite only at state functions and funerals — each received standing ovations following their eulogies.
President Clinton, 73, called Lewis "our friend" and spoke of his inspiring outlook and willingness to sacrifice his own safety for the rights of others during violent marches across the south, including during "Bloody Sunday" demonstrations.
“John Lewis was a walking rebuke to people who thought, ‘Well, we ain’t there yet and we’ve been working a long time. Isn’t it time to bag it?’ " Clinton said. "He kept moving.”
Lewis' final words were printed in a New York Times op-ed on Thursday, before his funeral services were held.
In the op-ed, which Lewis wrote for the purpose of being released on his funeral, Lewis spoke with motivation and encouragement for young activists to continue fighting for equal human rights — following in the footsteps of his famous message that "good trouble" can lead to greater and lasting change.
"It is so fitting on the day of his service, he leaves us our marching orders: Keep moving,” Clinton said Thursday.
At 23, Lewis was the youngest speaker at 1963 march on the nation's capitol and was also the youngest of the "Big Six" leaders of the civil rights movement.
Lewis also led the march in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965 — which led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
He was then elected to Congress in 1986 as a representative from Georgia and continued civil service throughout the rest of his life, earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
“What a gift John lewis was," Obama said Thursday. "We are all so lucky to have him walk with us for a while and show us the way.”