On Thursday, Black honored civil rights icon and longtime John Lewis rap in Atlanta. At his funeral, the first Black President of the United States, Barack Obama, gave an echo that served both to pay tribute to one of the greatest leaders of the American civil rights movement and called for for specific actions to continue that legacy. It is likely to fall as one of Obama’s biggest speeches, and it’s worth watching in full.
In a speech that was almost startling in her candid call to politics, Obama likened the brutal violence of 1965 that nearly ended Lewis’s life – police broke his skull at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama – to the suppression of violent peaceful protests by federal officials today called the 2013 Supreme Court ruling to overturn the Voting Rights Act and the wave of voter repression that followed “an attack on what John fought” challenged hypocritical congressional leaders. , who have opposed a renewal of the “law that [Lewis] wanted to die while issuing empty statements calling him a “hero”, called for an end to the expropriation of previously imprisoned people, called for making Election Day a national holiday, called for citizenship for DC and Puerto Rico, and called for “the elimination of the filibuster, another relic of Jim Crow, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American.”
Barnburner of a political speech followed a vigorous review of some of the highlights of Lewis’s life and career, a narrative that laid the groundwork for Obama’s call to action. It was clear that Obama was devastated by the death of a man he called a mentor.
“It is a great honor to return to Ebenezer Baptist Church in support of its greatest pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to pay my respects to perhaps his best disciple,” Obama told the beginning of his speeches, the voice almost breaking.
“I came here today because I, like so many Americans, owe a great debt to John Lewis and his strong vision of freedom,” Obama continued.
Obama then described Lewis being raised from a “modest means” location in the village of Troy, Alabama, where, as a boy, he eavesdropped on his father’s discussions with friends about the murderous violence of the Ku Klux Klan. As Obama described, after hearing King speak on the radio, Lewis became one of the greatest advocates for the nonviolent resistance this country has seen.
“He helped organize the Nashville campaign in 1960. He and other men and women sat on a separate lunch counter, well dressed, with their backs straight, refusing to let a whipped cream spill. over their heads, or a cigarette extinguished on their backs, or a leg aiming at their ribs – refuse to let it take away their dignity and their sense of purpose, “Obama said. “And after a few months, the Nashville campaign achieved the first successful decree of public buildings in every major city in the South. John got a prison taste for the first, second, third, well, several times. But he also took a taste of victory and consumed it with the right intention, and he plunged the battle deeper into the South. ”Obama then described Lewis’ work in deciphering buses in the South” months before Freedom’s first official voyage. “
But Obama’s narrative was not simply a powerful narrative of the life of an icon and founding member of the most democratic phase of American democracy – linking Lewis’s work in the 1960s to America’s current war with authoritarianism and voter oppression.
“Sometimes we read about it and we take it for granted, or at least act as if it were inevitable. Imagine the courage of two people Age of Malia, younger than my oldest daughter, on her own, to challenge an entire printing infrastructure, “he said.” John was only 20 years old, but he pushed all those 20 years into the center of the table, raiding everything, everything, that his example could challenge centuries of convention and generations of brutal violence and countless daily indignations suffered by African Americans. “
Finally, Obama turned into a powerful and direct political attack on today’s police brutality against the Black people and attempts to suppress voters and protests.
“Bull Connor” – the infamous Birmingham, Alabama, police commissioner who returned dogs and firearms to civil rights-era protesters – “may be gone, but today we see, with our own eyes, police officers kneeling on their necks of Black Americans, “Obama said, alluding to the assassination of George Floyd. “George Wallace may be missing, but we may be witnessing our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators,” he added, alluding to the Trump administration – ordering attacks on protesters in Lafayette Square in DC, and in Portland, Oregon.
Obama concluded by proposing that America honor the late congressman by passing a new John Lewis Voting Rights Act and other measures to protect the vote, and ending the “Jim Crow relic” of the filibuster if necessary pass it.
Obama was one of the most brilliant funeral speeches by an American president – a tribute to Lewis’s life and a specific, effective prayer to defend the rights for which he and many others fought and clashed. History will determine if his call – and that of Lewis – was heard in the United States.
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