WASHINGTON – Lawmakers of both parties said that when moral clarity was needed, they sought guidance again and again from the late Rep. John Lewis.
They marveled at the gentle spirit of the Democratic congressman from Georgia and wondered why the abuse he suffered as a civil rights leader hadn't made him bitter. Their own spirits were lifted as they marched with Lewis on the anniversaries of Bloody Sunday or watched him spend countless hours talking to young people about the lessons of the past and the work that still needs to be done.
Lewis, who died July 17 from pancreatic cancer at 80, crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma for the final time Sunday. A horse-drawn carriage carried Lewis' flag-draped casket across the bridge where he suffered a skull fracture when he and other peaceful marchers were beaten with clubs by state troopers on Bloody Sunday in 1965.
Lewis will lie in state on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Monday and Tuesday.
Here's what members of Congress said they will most remember about him.
Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., was walking with Lewis to the Capitol one day when passengers in a cab driving along Independence Avenue spotted Lewis.
“They literally jumped out of the cab, in the middle of the street, and cars were honking,” Clark remembers. “John was saying, `I love you, brother. I love you, sister. But you’ve got to be safe!’”
Reps. Katherine Clark, Robin Kelly and Judy Chu: A sit-in for gun control
In June 2016, after a gunman killed dozens of people at a nightclub in Florida, Clark was among the lawmakers frustrated with what she saw as Congress’s inability to respond.
“I was distraught that the House of Representatives, one of the greatest legislative bodies in the world, just gave eight seconds of silence,” the Massachusetts Democrat told USA TODAY. “I went and sat with Mr. Lewis and I said…I felt like we had to do something better.”
Lewis suggested a sit-in to demand votes on gun control measures.
"It was John that said, `Enough is enough,'" Chu said.
It started with a small group of Democrats going to the well of the House for the portion of the morning when lawmakers are allowed to speak on any topic.
“He went down on his knees and I went down on my knees,” said Kelly, another instigator. “And the rest is history.”
Democrats counted 170 of their members who eventually joined the more than 24-hour protest that broke House rules and halted regular floor activities. Republican leaders shut off the cameras to the floor and eventually adjourned the House early for their Fourth of July recess. But Democrats broadcast their protest through social media.
"They turned off the cameras, the House cameras, but we just held up our iPhones anyway," Chu said. "And the nation tuned in, transfixed."
At one point, Lewis laughed when Clark asked him how the demonstration compared with his other sit-ins.
“The conditions were pretty much the best he’d ever seen,” she said. “Nobody was in fear of bodily harm and we had people delivering doughnuts and pizzas to us from around the country.”
The measures Democrats pushed for have not become law. But Clark said gun violence has risen higher on voters’ list of concerns.
“I think it connected with the American people in a profound way,” she said. “When you combined John Lewis’ powerful voice with the voices of the young people that came out of March For Our Lives, it turned it into a potent political force for good and for peace.”
Original story here.