- Former President Barack Obama delivered a laudatory speech on Thursday for the late civil rights icon John Lewis.
- Lewis, one of the last surviving heroes of the civil rights movement, died of pancreatic cancer on June 17 at the age of 80.
- Obama said the America we know today was built by Lewis and described Lewis as "the founding father of this fuller, fairer, and better America."
- Obama called on Congress to honor Lewis' legacy by restoring the Voting Rights Act and passing new protections for voting rights, and even proposed abolishing the filibuster for these goals.
- You can find more stories on the Business Insider homepage.
Former President Barack Obama gave a powerful eulogy to the late civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Thursday.
Lewis, one of the last living heroes of the civil rights movement, died on June 17 at the age of 80 from advanced pancreatic cancer. From 1987 until his death, he represented Georgia's fifth congressional district, which also included the city of Atlanta.
Lewis was born the son of tenants in rural Alabama and was committed to civil disobedience and civil rights activism from an early age. How a young man and a freedom riderLewis participated in dozens of non-violent demonstrations and was at the forefront of some of the most momentous struggles that ensured concrete victories for civil rights and voting rights in the 1960s.
At 23, Lewis was the youngest speaker at Washington in March 1963. And at the age of 25 he led a voting march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery. On that day, when protesters attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were hit by a blockade of state troops that caused physical brutality and tear gas to the demonstrators in an incident known as "Bloody Sunday."
Lewis continued the struggle for voting rights, later NPRs told "Fresh Air" in an interview from 2016 that the incident of the civil rights movement prompted President Lyndon Johnson to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
"John Lewis's life was exceptional in many ways," said Obama. "It confirmed the belief in our founding, solved that belief, most of the American ideas. The idea that each of us ordinary people without rank, wealth, title or fame can point to the imperfections of this nation and come together to challenge the status quo . "
Obama said the America we know today was built by Lewis and described Lewis as "the founding father of this fuller, fairer, and better America."
In his speech, Obama spoke bluntly about how some of the power structures Lewis devoted his life to, including police brutality and oppression of racist voters, still exist today.
"Bull Connor may be gone, but today we see with our own eyes how policemen kneel on the necks of black Americans," he said. "George Wallace may be gone, but we can see our federal government send agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators."
Obama roused in Congress to restore the parts of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court rejected in 2013 and to pass a number of other reforms, including setting up automatic voter registration, expanding polling stations, re-franchising previously detained Americans, and Make election day a national holiday.
He even suggested that the filibuster, which he called the "Jim Crow Relic," be abolished "if that's what it takes" to achieve new voting rights protection, a major reversal in how Congress worked since the 19th Century.
Watch Obama's full speech here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdTKO5OLU3U [/ embed]