John Lewis’ spirit and legacy were honored in a powerful way during the final night of the Democratic National Convention. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms evoked Lewis’ memory and his fight for justice to stir viewers’ passion to vote and to have a voice.
Bottoms spoke of living in the state that Lewis represented as a congressman — up until his death on July 17 at the age of 80 — and the impact he had on the country and on history.
“He walked gently amongst us not as a distant icon but as a God-fearing man who did what he could to fulfill the as-yet unfulfilled promise of America,” Bottoms reflected of the civil rights leader. “People often think that they can’t make a difference like our civil rights icons, but every person in the movement mattered. Those who made the sandwiches, swept the church floors, stuffed the envelopes. They, too, changed America, and so can we.”
“The baton has now been passed to each of us. We’ve cried out for justice. We have gathered in our streets to demand change,” continued Bottoms, who has been at the forefront of the national conversation regarding the Black Lives Matter protests, many of which have been held in Atlanta. “Now we must pass on the gift John Lewis sacrificed to give us. We must register and we must vote.”
Bottoms explained that, in his final letter to the American people, published posthumously, Lewis “reminded us that if we failed to exercise our right to vote, we can lose it.”
“There are those who are disgracefully using this pandemic to spread misinformation and interfere with voting. Forcing many in 2020 to still risk their lives to exercise their sacred right to vote. A right that has already been paid for with the blood, sweat, tears, and lives of so many,” she continued. “So let’s stand up for our children, our children’s children, and for this great democracy that our ancestors worked to build, and let’s vote. And let’s organize to get others to vote with us.”
The mayor stressed what she feels is the importance of voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, whom she described as “people of honor and integrity, who hold justice close to their hearts and believe that the lives of my four Black children matter.”
“Congressman Lewis would not be silenced. And neither can we,” she continued. “We must be the heroes of our generation because we, too, are America. Our votes can be our voice.”
After Bottoms’ powerful address, the DNC honored Lewis with a retrospective recounting his legacy and his lifelong fight for justice, equality and change.
The short film, made up largely of historical footage from Lewis’ many civil rights protests and his decades in politics, also featured interviews with those who knew, worked and fought alongside him throughout his life.
“John Lewis had the respect of everybody because he was the one who demonstrated the most courage,” Ambassador Andrew Young shared. “He’d been beaten and knocked down and would get up and go to find another battle.”
Young recalled Lewis’ strength and charisma coming from “the power of spirituality and humility and the willingness to suffer rather than to inflict suffering.”
The retrospective also featured an interview with the late congressman Elijah Cummings, who died in October 2019.
“One of the things that John taught us is that you may have to sacrifice, but if you sacrifice for a cause, something bigger than you, and you really believe in it, then you will have people following you,” Cummings recalled.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also sang Lewis’ praises as a politician and a leader, sharing, “From day one, John Lewis was a role model for the members of Congress, whether they were freshmen or here a long time, because he brought with him a kind of heft, a weightiness of purpose.”
In December 2019, Lewis announced he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Lewis said in December that he has been “in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”
Election Day is Nov. 3, 2020 — head over to Vote.org to register to vote and to get all the latest information.
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