US presidents pay respects to civil rights pioneer John Lewis | News | DW | 30.07.2020
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US presidents pay respects to civil rights pioneer John Lewis

The late US civil rights leader John Lewis has been honored by three former presidents in a funeral ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia. Barack Obama gave a eulogy in which he condemned the use of troops against protesters.

Veteran US lawmaker and civil rights leader John Lewis was mourned and remembered on Thursday in Atlanta, in a funeral service in which three former US presidents were in attendance. 

Lewis died on July 17 at the age of 80.

The final service for the longtime member of the US House of Representatives was held at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, a church with historic significance for many in the US civil rights movement. 

Commemorations for Lewis lasted for nearly a week leading up to the funeral, and included a rare ceremony in the Rotunda of the US Capitol building in Washington DC.

The Black congressman will now be laid to rest in his home city of Atlanta.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the service during the funeral of late U.S. Congressman John Lewis, a pioneer of the civil rights movement and long-time member of the U.S. House of Representatives who died July 17, at Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. July 30, 2020. (Reuters/Pool/A. Pointer)

Obama did not name President Trump but referred to the Black Lives Matter protests and the police and government response

Obama condemns use federal agents

Former President Barack Obama was present at the funeral ceremony and delivered a eulogy in which he praised the civil rights activist for his "resilient persistence" in the fight against inequality and racism. Obama called Lewis one of the "founding fathers" of a better, fairer America. 

Read more:  John Lewis — Remembering a US hero in struggle against racism

Without mentioning the current president by name, Obama also used the moment to condemn President Donald Trump's decision to deploy federal agents against protesters in Portland, Oregon and other US cities. 

People watch former U.S. President Barack Obama on a screen outside of Ebenezer Baptist Church during the memorial service of late U.S. Congressman John Lewis in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. July 30, 2020. (Reuters/E. Nouvelage)

With reduced capacity inside amid social distancing, crowds gathered to watch near the church

"Today we witness with our own eyes, police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans," Obama said. "We can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators."

The former president said Lewis served as an example for how to fight for democracy.

"As long as we have breath in our bodies, we have to continue his cause," he said. 

Watch video 05:20

'He became the moral compass of Congress'

A double rainbow in Washington

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also gave eulogies, as did Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

"He always believed in preaching the Gospel in word and in deed, insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope," said former President George W. Bush. 

Pelosi recalled how a double rainbow appeared while Lewis' body was lying in state at the U.S. Capitol earlier this week. 

"He was telling us, 'I'm home in heaven, I'm home in heaven.'," Pelosi said. "We always knew he worked on the side of angels, and now he is with them.''

kp/msh (AFP, AP, dpa)