George W. Bush and Bill Clinton remember sacrifice and service of John Lewis

The former presidents remembered John Lewis for his bravery, service and relentless quest for equality at his funeral in Atlanta.
/ Source: TODAY

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush remembered the dedication to service and relentless push for equality embodied by congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis at his funeral ceremony on Thursday.

Lewis, who died at 80 on July 17, was honored at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the district he represented in the House of Representatives for 33 years.

A trio of former presidents were in attendance, with Bush and Clinton each delivering speeches about Lewis and the nation's first Black president, Barack Obama, giving his eulogy.

Bush remembered Lewis as a man who "always looked outward, not inward."

"He always thought of others," Bush said. "He always believed in preaching the gospel, in word and in deed, insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope."

Bush recalled working with Lewis on the push to create the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and signing the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act proposed by Lewis.

"He's been called an American saint, a believer willing to give up everything, even life itself, to bear witness to the truth that drove him all his life — that we could build a world of peace and justice, harmony and dignity and love," Bush said.

He added, "His lesson for us is that we must all keep ourselves open to hearing the call of love, the call of service and the call to sacrifice for others."

The Republican president admitted to occasionally clashing with Lewis, a longtime Democrat, but always maintained a respect for him.

"John and I had our disagreements, of course, but in the America John Lewis fought for and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action," Bush said. "We the people, including congressmen and presidents, can have differing views on how to perfect our union while sharing the conviction that our nation, however flawed, is at heart a good and noble one."

Bush hopes the legacy left by Lewis is one that all Americans embrace.

"We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis — and his abiding faith in the power of God, in the power of democracy, and in the power of love to lift us all to a higher ground," he said. "The story that began in Troy isn't ending here today, nor is the work. John Lewis lives forever in his father's house and he will live forever in the hearts of Americans who act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God."

Clinton, who first met Lewis in the 1970s, reminded the audience that Lewis was a flesh-and-blood person as much as a civil rights hero.

"I think it's important that all of us who loved him remember he was, after all, a human being," Clinton said. "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."

Like many of those paying tribute to Lewis, Clinton remembered his bravery as a leader of a group of nonviolent civil rights protesters who were beaten by police as they marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 as they fought for their constitutional right to vote.

"We honor him because in Selma on the third attempt, John and his comrades showed that sometimes you have to walk into the wind along with with it," Clinton said.

"He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist."

Clinton urged all Americans to continue the fight for justice and equality that Lewis espoused.

"I just loved him," he said. "I always will. And I'm 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."