When Gus Turner was 7 years old, he remembers seeing John Lewis attempting to cross the bridge in Selma, Alabama, only to be badly beaten by state troopers.
Turner’s admiration for Lewis began that day.
“He was a believer, man, he believed in what was right and was willing to give his life for it,” said Turner, who was one of thousands of people who lined up around the Georgia Capitol on Wednesday for the chance to spend a few moments alongside Lewis’ casket.
While Lewis may have born in Alabama, it was in Georgia where he went from being a civil rights activist to a celebrated statesman.
On Thursday morning, a hearse drove Lewis’ body just over a mile to Ebenezer Baptist Church, where not every pew was filled because of social distancing.
Instead, hundreds of people, like Patricia Spicer, gathered outside the church to watch on a video screen.
It was not the first time Spicer had been in Lewis’ presence. In 1963, she traveled from Connecticut to the March on Washington, where Lewis was among the speakers.
“When he spoke, you stopped and you listened,” said Spicer. “It didn’t go in one ear and out the other. It stayed with you.”
From that moment to his more than three decades in Congress, Lewis’ dedication to his cause was a central theme of Thursday’s memorial.
“The man you see on television decided that his life was going to have a quality to it,” said longtime friend and fellow civil rights leader Xernona Clayton. “Do as much as you can, as long as you can, as often as you can. Because that’s what John Lewis did.”
Joining Clayton in paying tribute to Lewis were former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The afternoon concluded with a eulogy from former President Barack Obama, who credited Lewis with making America a “more perfect union.”
“Whether it’s years from now, or decades or even if it takes another two centuries, John Lewis will be a Founding Father of that fuller, fairer, better America,” said Obama.
On Thursday morning, just hours before the funeral, newspapers published Lewis’ final words.
In the essay, he wrote that the current demonstrations over racial justice are proof that, as he sees it, “the truth is still marching on.”