Body of John Lewis makes final journey over Selma bridge

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The late United States Representative John Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the final time on Sunday as remembrances continue for the civil rights legend. 

A crowd began gathering near the bridge that became a landmark in the fight for racial justice when Lewis and other civil rights marchers were beaten there 55 years ago on “Bloody Sunday,” a key event in the fight for voting rights for Black Americans. 

A horse-drawn hearse retraced the route through Selma from Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the 1965 march began.

As the wagon approached the bridge, members of the crowd shouted “Thank you, John Lewis!” and “Good trouble” – the phrase Lewis used to describe his tangles with white authorities during the civil rights movement.

John Lewis had his skull cracked during a March in Selma for equal voting rights in 1965 [Brynn Anderson/Reuters]

Some crowd members sang the gospel song Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed on Jesus. Later, some onlookers sang the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome and similar tunes.

The hearse paused atop the bridge over the Alabama River as the cicadas sang in the summer heat.

On the south side of the bridge, where Lewis was beaten by Alabama state troopers in 1965, family members placed roses that the carriage rolled over, marking the spot where Lewis spilt his blood and suffered a severe head injury.

As a military honour guard lifted Lewis’s coffin from the wagon into an automobile hearse, state troopers saluted Lewis. 

A native of Pike County, Alabama, Lewis became involved in the civil rights movement as a young man.

In 1965, he and other marchers, calling for equal rights for all voters regardless of race, were beaten in Selma as segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace ordered a crackdown.

The news coverage of the event help galvanise support for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Amid current national anti-racism protests and a movement to abolish Confederate monuments and symbols, calls have grown to rename the bridge in honour of Lewis.

It is currently named after Edmund Winston Pettus, a former Confederate brigadier general and leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.

Week of memorials

Lewis’s body will later be brought to the Alabama Capitol in the afternoon to lie in repose.

A series of events began on Saturday in Lewis’s hometown of Troy, Alabama, to pay tribute to the late congressman and his legacy. He will lie in state at the US Capitol next week before his private funeral on Thursday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr once led.

Frank and Ellen Hill drove for more than four hours from Monroe, Louisiana, to watch the procession. 

John Lewis civil rights

John Lewis was the youngest of the so-called Big Six activists who helped organise the march on Washington where Reverend Martin Luther King Jr gave his infamous I Have a Dream speech [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

Frank Hill, 60, said he remembers, as an African American child, watching news footage of Lewis and other civil rights marchers being beaten by law enforcement officers.

“I had to come back and see John Lewis cross the bridge for the last time,” said Hill. It’s funny to see the state troopers here to honour and respect him rather than beat the crap out of him,” Hill told The Associated Press. 

Lewis, 80, died on July 17, several months after he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.



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