As the black car pulled by a team of dark horses approached the bridge, members of the crowd shouted, “Thank you, John Lewis!” And “Good trouble!” The expression Lewis used to describe his involvement with white authorities during the civil rights movement.
Some members of the audience sang the gospel song “Woke up with my mind this morning, stayed with Jesus”. Later, some viewers sang the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” and other gospel pieces.
Lewis died on July 17 at the age of 80, months after being diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. Lewis served in the United States House of Representatives for the 5th district of Georgia from 1987 until his death.
The car rolled over a carpet of rose petals and stopped in the summer heat on the bridge over the Alabama River so family members could walk behind it. On the south side of the bridge, where Alabama State Troopers hit Lewis in 1965, family members placed red roses over which the car rolled and marked the place where Lewis spilled his blood and suffered a head injury.
When a military guard of honor lifted Lewis’ coffin out of the horse-drawn cart into a hearse, Alabama state troops, including some African-Americans, greeted Lewis.
Franz and Ellen Hill drove more than four hours from Monroe, Louisiana to watch the procession.
Franz Hill, 60, said he remembers watching an African American child watch messages from Lewis and other civil rights activists beaten by police officers.
“I had to come back and see John Lewis cross the bridge for the last time,” said Hill. “It’s funny to see how state troops honor and respect him instead of beating him up.”
Lewis’ body was then taken to the Alabama Capitol in the afternoon to rest and retraced the route the demonstrators had taken in the days after Blood Sunday to demand justice from Alabama governor George Wallace.
Bertha Surles and Edna Goldsmith stood on the Selma-Montgomery highway to pay their last respects. Both had signs saying “thank you”.
“He fought for rights until his death,” said Surles, 70.
She was in high school on Blood Sunday, remembering how she had seen Lewis shocked in shock.
“They didn’t give up and something good came out of it. Something needs to be improved, but something good came out.”
“John was willing to sacrifice life so that we could choose freely,” said Edna Goldsmith, wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. “We want to say goodbye to him with a bang.”
Lewis left his family’s farm in Pike County, Alabama in the 1950s to start fighting segregation and racial oppression. At his last stop in his home state, he was greeted by a hero.
After an honor guard had followed Selma’s path to Montgomery, she carried Lewis’s coffin with flag to the Alabama Capitol, where he will rest. Alabama governor Kay Ivey placed a wreath of flowers shaped like the flag of Alabama next to the coffin. US representative Terri Sewell placed an American flag wreath.
His family members, many of whom were wearing “Good Trouble” shirts, were first led to the Capitol before being seen publicly later that afternoon. A number of people, some of whom carried umbrellas for shadows, waited under the brutal midday sun of Alabama to go inside and pay their respects.
A series of events began on Saturday in Lewis’ hometown of Troy, Alabama, to pay tribute to the late Congressman and his legacy. He will be in the U.S. Capitol next week before his private Thursday funeral at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was once led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.