Former President Barack Obama delivered a powerful eulogy for the late civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church on Thursday.
Lewis, one of the last living heroes of the civil rights movement, died on June 17 from advanced pancreatic cancer at the age of 80. He represented Georgia’s fifth congressional district, which includes the city of Atlanta, from 1987 until his death.
“The life of John Lewis was exceptional in so many ways,” Obama said. “It vindicated the faith in our founding, redeemed that faith, that most American of ideas. The idea that any of us ordinary people without rank, wealth, title or fame, can point out the imperfections of this nation and come together to challenge the status quo.”
Obama said the America we know today was built by Lewis, referring to Lewis as “a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.”
In his speech, Obama bluntly spoke to how some of the power structures Lewis dedicated his life to dismantling, including police brutality and racist voter suppression, persist to this day.
“Bull Connor may be gone, but today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans,” he said. “George Wallace may be gone but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.”
Obama also gave a rousing call for Congress to restore the parts of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 and pass a number of other reforms including establishing automatic voter registration, expanding polling places, reenfranchising formerly incarcerated Americans, and making election day a national holiday.
He even suggested that the filibuster, which he called “a Jim Crow relic” should be abolished “if that’s what it takes” to enact new voting rights protections, a major reversal for how Congress has operated since the 19th century.