Civil rights icon John Lewis becomes first black lawmaker to lie in state at US Capitol Rotunda

Georgia congressman died aged 80 after contracting pancreatic cancer six months ago

Danielle Zoellner
Monday 27 July 2020 16:53
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Civil rights icon John Lewis dies aged 80

Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a Democrat, will become the first black lawmaker to lie in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda, one of the highest honours offered to American citizens.

The civil rights icon will lie in state at the Capitol building in Washington DC on Monday with an invitation-only arrival ceremony starting at 1.30pm EST, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced last week.

Currently the Capitol is closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Lewis will only lie in state for a few hours in the Rotunda with about 80 lawmakers expected to pay their respects to the representative.

Those expected to attend include Vice President Mike Pence, second lady Karen Pence, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and Jill Biden. President Donald Trump was not scheduled to attend.

The ceremony will involve Reverend Grainger Browning Jr of Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, Maryland, delivering the invocation before both Ms Pelosi and Mr McConnell give remarks.

Then there will be a presentation of wreaths by Representative Steny Hoyer, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senator Chuck Schumer, and Senator Tim Scott.

Singer Wintley Phipps will perform songs like Amazing Grace and It Is Well.

Following the invitation-only ceremony, Mr Lewis’ body will be moved to the Capitol steps for a public viewing.

Members of the public will get the chance to line up and view the civil rights icon on Monday and Tuesday, but all are expected to wear masks and practice social distancing during this viewing.

Lying in state is one of the highest forms of ceremonial tribute in the United States. This honour is often given to distinguished American civil servants and military officials.

Last year Congressman Elijah Cummings became the first black lawmaker to lie in honour in the Capitol building, but he was honoured in Statuary Hall, not the Rotunda. The Capitol Rotunda has recently honoured Senator John McCain and President George HW Bush.

Civil rights leader Rosa Parks also was laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda in 2005.

Mr Lewis served as a 17-term representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, which is largely made up of the city of Atlanta, and a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

His public career started in the 60s where he became one of 13 original Freedom Riders. He went on to march for voting rights for black Americans in 1965 in Selma, Alabama – which included him being brutally beaten by police.

The man, later known as the “conscience of the Congress”, promoted creating “good trouble” when fighting for racial equality.

He died at the age of 80 after his six-month battle with pancreatic cancer, a loss that sparked an outpouring of grief and mourning for the civil rights leader and all he accomplished in his lifetime.

Prominent leaders like President Barack Obama, Bernice King, and Reverend Al Sharpton all led the tributes to Mr Lewis last week following his death.

The plans for Mr Lewis’ body to lie in state in the US Capitol is one of several ceremonies scheduled to honour the civil rights icon's life.

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