ATLANTA - The late Congressman John Lewis returned to Atlanta to be honored at the state Capitol before he is laid to rest Thursday.
The civil rights leader and figure of both Georgia and national politics moved to the home he represented for decades Wednesday morning, where he will lie in state at the Georgia Capitol.
Wednesday is the fifth day in a six-day "celebration of life" in the late congressman's honor that stretched from the Edmund Pettus Bridge to a historical honor at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Lewis, who represented Atlanta Democrats in the House of Representatives for almost 34 years, died on July 17 at the age of 80.
The celebration of Lewis's life began in his hometown of Troy, Alabama, where he was born to sharecroppers in Jim Crow-era Alabama. It was in Alabama that he began his work creating what he called "good trouble" in the fight for civil rights.
Lewis was among the original Freedom Riders, young activists who boarded commercial passenger buses and traveled through the segregated Jim Crow South in the early 1960s. They were assaulted at many stops, by citizens and authorities alike. Lewis was the youngest and last-living of those who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington.
The Bloody Sunday events in Selma two years later forged much of Lewis’ public identity. He was at the head of hundreds of civil rights protesters who attempted to march from the Black Belt city to the Alabama Capitol in Montgomery.
Lewis spoke of those critical months for the rest of his life as he championed voting rights as the foundation of democracy, and he returned to Selma many times for commemorations at the site where authorities had brutalized him and others. “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred,” he said again and again. “It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy.”
On Sunday, Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the last time on a horse-drawn carriage before an automobile hearse transported him to the Alabama Capitol, where he lay in repose. He was escorted by Alabama state troopers, this time with Black officers in their ranks, and his casket stood down the hall from the office where the governor had peered out of his window at the citizens he refused to meet.
Earlier this week, Lewis's body was moved to Washington, D.C., where he became the first Black lawmaker to lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda.
Dozens of lawmakers looked on Monday as Lewis’ flag-draped casket sat atop the catafalque built for President Abraham Lincoln. Several wiped away tears as the late congressman’s voice echoed off the marble and gilded walls.
“You must find a way to get in the way. You must find a way to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble,” Lewis intoned in a recorded commencement address he’d delivered in his hometown of Atlanta. “Use what you have … to help make our country and make our world a better place, where no one will be left out or left behind. ... It is your time.”
At the ceremony, congressional leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties praised Lewis as a moral force for the nation.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said Monday, quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “But that is never automatic. History only bent toward what’s right because people like John paid the price.”
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on the Voting Rights Advancement Act on Friday, December 6, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
After being honored at the Georgia Capitol, his family will have a private funeral at Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and lay him to rest at South View Cemetery.
The family has encouraged the public to tie either a blue or purple ribbon on their doors or in their yards to commemorate the life of John Lewis.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.