Former president Barack Obama delivered a call to action in his eulogy Thursday of late congressman John Lewis, urging Congress to pass new voting rights laws and likening tactics by President Trump and his administration to those used by racist Southern leaders who fought the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Obama, speaking for 40 minutes at the pulpit where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, tied Lewis’s early life as a Freedom Rider to the nationwide protests that followed the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. He compared today’s federal agents using tear gas against peaceful protesters, an action that Trump has cheered on, to the same attacks Lewis faced on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965.
“Bull Connor may be gone, but today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans,” the nation’s first Black president said at Lewis’s final memorial service. “George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators. We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here there are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting.”