Former President Bill Clinton, along with George W. Bush and Barack Obama, attended Rep. John Lewis’ funeral Thursday.
Clinton seemed to unveil what sounded like a fake southern accent, as well.
Here is a full transcript of Clinton’s remarks:
Thank you very much. First, I thank John-Miles and the Lewis family and John’s incomparable staff for a chance to say a few words about a man I loved for a long time. I am grateful, Pastor Warnock, to say it in Ebenezer, a holy place sanctified by both the faith and the works of those who have worshipped here. I thank my friend, Reverend Bernice King, who stood by my side and gave a fascinating sermon in one of the most challenging periods of my life.
I thank President and Mrs. Bush, President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, thank you and Rep. Hoyer and Rep. Clyburn, who I really thank for with a stroke of a hand, ending an intrafamily fight within our party, proving that peace is needed by everyone. Madam Mayor, thank you. You have faced more than a fair share of challenges in these past few months, and you have faced them with candor and dignity and honor and I thank you for your leadership.
I must say, for a fella who got his start speaking to chickens, John’s gotten a pretty finely organized and orchestrated and deeply deserved send-off this last week. His homegoing has been something to behold. I think it’s important that all of us who loved him remember that he was, after all, a human being, a man like all other humans, born with strengths that he made the most of when many don’t born with weaknesses that he worked hard to beat down when many can’t, but still a person. It made him more interesting, and it made him, in my mind, even greater.
Twenty years ago, we celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Selma March and we walked together along with Coretta and many others from the movement who are no longer with us. We’re grateful for Annie Young and Rev. Jackson and Diane Nash and many others who survive. But on that day, I got him to replay for me a story he told me when we first met back in the 1970s and I said…I was just an aspiring, whatever, Southern politician, and hadn’t been elected governor and he was already a legend.
So I said, John, what’s the closest you’ve ever actually came to getting killed doing this. And he said, well, once we were at a demonstration and I got knocked down on the ground and people were getting beat up pretty bad, and there was a man holding up a long, heavy piece of pipe and he lifted it and was clearly gonna bring it right down to my skull. And at the very last second, I turned my neck away and the crowd pushed him a little bit and a couple seconds later, I couldn’t believe I was still alive. I think it’s important to remember that, first because he’s a quick thinker, and secondly because he was here on a mission that was bigger than personal ambition. Things like that sometimes just happen, but usually they don’t.
I think three things happened to John Lewis long before we met and became friends that made him who he was. First, the famous story of John at 4 with his cousins and siblings, holding his aunt’s hand, more than a dozen of them, running around in a little old wooden house as the wind threatened to blow the house off its moorings, going to the place where the house was rising and all the tiny bodies trying to weigh it down. I think he learned something about the power of working together, something that was more powerful than any instruction.
Second, nearly twenty years later, when he was 23, the youngest speaker and the last speaker at the March on Washington, when he gave a great speech urging people to take to the streets across the South to see the chance to finally end racism. And he listened to people that he knew had the same goals say, well, we have to be careful how we say this because we’re trying to get converts, not more adversaries. Just three years later, he lost the leadership of SNCC to Stokely Carmichael because it was a pretty good job for a guy that young and come from Troy, Alabama. It must have been painful to lose, but he showed as a young man there’s some things that you just cannot do to hang on to a position because if you do, then, you won’t be who you are anymore. And I say there were two or three years there, where the movement went a little too far towards Stokely, but in the end, John Lewis prevailed. We are here today because he had the kind of character he showed when he lost an election.
Then, there was Bloody Sunday, he figured he might get arrested. And this is really important for all the rhapsodic things we believe about John Lewis, he had a really good mind and he was always trying to figure out how I can make the most out of every single moment. So he’s getting ready to march from Selma to Montgomery, he wants to get across the bridge. What do we remember? He cut quite a strange figure: He had a trenchcoat and a backpack. Now, young people probably think that’s no big deal but there weren’t that many backpacks back then. And you never saw anybody in a trenchcoat looking halfway dressed up with a backpack. But John put an apple, an orange, a toothbrush, toothpaste to take care of his body ‘cause he figured he would get arrested. And two books, one by Richard Hofstadter on America’s political tradition to feed his mind, and one, the autobiography of Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic Trappist monk who was the son of itinerant artists making an astonishing personal transformation. What’s a young guy who’s about to get his brains beat out and planning on going to prison doing taking that? I think he figured that if Thomas Merton could find his way and keep his faith and believe in the future, he, John Lewis could too.
So we honor our friend for his faith and for living his faith, which the Scripture said is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. John Lewis was a walking rebuke to people who thought, ‘well, we ain’t there yet, we’ve been working a long time, isn’t it time to bag it?’ He kept moving. He hoped for and imagined and lived and worked and moved for his beloved community. He took a savage beating on more than one day. And he lost that backpack on Bloody Sunday. Nobody knows what happened to it. Maybe someone someday will be stricken with conscience and give some of it back. But what it represented never disappeared from John Lewis’ spirit.
We honor that memory today because he learned to walk with the wind, to march with others to save a tiny house, because as a young man, he challenged others to join him with love and dignity to hold America’s house down and open the doors of America to all its people. We honor him because on Selma, on the third attempt, John and his comrades showed that sometimes you have to walk into the wind along with it as he crossed the bridge and marched into Montgomery. But no matter what, John always kept walking to reach the beloved community. He got into a lot of good trouble along the way, but let’s not forget, he developed an absolutely uncanny ability to heal troubled waters. When he could have been angry and determined to cancel his adversaries, he tried to get converts instead.
He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist. He lived by the faith and promise of St. Paul: Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not lose heart. He never lost heart. He fought the good fight, he kept the faith, but we got our last letter today on the pages of the New York Times. Keep moving. It is so fitting on the day of his service, he leaves us our marching orders: Keep moving.
Twenty years ago, when I came here after the Selma march to a big dinner honoring John and Lillian and John-Miles, you had a big Afro and it was really pretty, and your daddy was giving you grief about it, and I said to John, ‘let’s not get old too soon. I mean, if I had hair like that, I’d have it down to my shoulders.’
But on that night, I was almost out of time and to be President, people were asking me, ‘well, if you could do one more thing what it would be?’ or ‘what do you wish you had done that you didn’t?’ and all that kind of stuff. Someone asked me that night, because I had many friends in Atlanta, and I said, if I could do just one thing, if God came to me tonight and said, ‘OK your time is up, you gotta go home, and I’m not a genie, I’m not giving you three wishes. One thing, what would it be?’
I said: I would infect every American with whatever it was that John Lewis got as a 4-year-old kid and took through a lifetime to keep moving and to keep moving in the right direction and keep bringing other people to move and to do it without hatred in his heart, with a song and to be able to sing and dance. As John’s brother Freddie said in Troy, keep moving to the ballot box even if it’s a mailbox, and keep moving to the beloved community.
John Lewis was many things, but he was a man, a friend and sunshine in the storm, a friend who would walk the stony road that he asked you to walk, that would brave the chastening rods he asked you to be whipped by, always keeping his eyes on the prize, always believing none of us would be free until all of us are equal. I just loved him. I always will. And I’m so grateful that he stayed true to form. He’s gone up yonder and left us with marching orders. I suggest since he’s close enough to God to keep his eye on the sparrow and on us, we salute, suit up and march on.
Bill Clinton's closing lines in John Lewis eulogy: "I just loved him. I always will. And I am so grateful that he stayed true to form. He has gone up yonder, and left us with marching orders. And I suggest…we salute, suit up, and march on" https://t.co/wrzcAjBNnU pic.twitter.com/Y8k9mQYlVw
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 30, 2020
Speaking at John Lewis' funeral, Bill Clinton disses civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture): "There were two or three years there where the movement went a little bit too far towards Stokely. But in the end, John Lewis prevailed." pic.twitter.com/5uc6eZtFUQ
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) July 30, 2020
Former Pres. Bill Clinton on John Lewis: "He was after all a human being.
A man like all other humans, born with strengths that he made the most of when many don't.
— ABC News (@ABC) July 30, 2020