WASHINGTON - The U.S. state of Georgia is honoring the late U.S. congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis on Wednesday with a ceremony at the state capitol in Atlanta where mourners will have a chance to go pay their last respects.
Lewis’ body will lie in state at the capitol’s rotunda for viewing in the afternoon. In keeping with coronavirus precautions, authorities are requiring everyone who attends to wear a face mask.
Lewis died last week at the age of 80 after a yearlong battle with advanced-stage pancreatic cancer.
The congressional district Lewis represented for 33 years includes Atlanta and its surrounding area.
"In addition to his lifelong commitment to fight oppression and battle hatred, Congressman Lewis honorably served Georgia's fifth congressional district in the United States House of Representatives for seventeen terms," Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said in an executive order. "As we mourn his death, we honor his dedication to his fellow man and woman, and we commend his efforts to positively change the world in profound and immeasurable ways."
There will be a private funeral service Thursday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, a historically black church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Lewis will then be buried at Atlanta’s South-View Cemetery.
Lewis was honored Monday and Tuesday in Washington where people filed past the east side of the Capitol to see his flag-draped coffin resting at the top of the steps along with a row of white flowers.
In remarks Monday in the Capitol Rotunda, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Lewis the conscience of the Congress.
“It is fitting that John Lewis joins this pantheon of patriots, resting upon the same catafalque as President Abraham Lincoln,” she said. A catafalque is an ornamental wooden framework that supports a coffin lying in state.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also praised Lewis, saying “Lewis lived and worked with urgency because the task was urgent."
Lewis was the second Black lawmaker to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. Congressman Elijah Cummings, who died last year, was the first.
Lewis rose to fame as a leader of the modern-day American civil rights movement of the 1960s. At 23, he worked closely with King and was the last surviving speaker from the August 1963 March on Washington where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
The civil rights movement led Lewis into a career in politics. He was elected to the Atlanta City Council in 1981 and to Congress in 1986, calling the latter victory “the honor of a lifetime.” He served 17 terms in the House.
Kemp has set a September 29 special election for voters to select a representative to fill out the remaining few months of Lewis’ current term. Voters will then choose during national elections in November who will serve the next full two-year term that begins in January.