Transcript for Bill Clinton speaks at John Lewis’ funeral
He also said he shared patriot with him. Now president William Jefferson Clinton. 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 in ebenezer, a holy place sanctified by both the faith and the works of those who 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 bush, president Obama, speaker Pelosi and representative Hoyer and representative Clyburn who I really thank for with the 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 last few months, and you have faced them with candor and dignity and honor, and I thank you for that. I must say for a fellow that got his start speaking to chickens, John's gotten a pretty finely organized and orchestrated and deeply deserved sendoff 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. 20 years ago we celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Selma March, and we talked together along with Coretta and many others from the movement who are no longer with us. We are grateful for Andy young and reverend 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. I said, you know, I was just an aspiring whatever southern politician and had been elected governor, and he was already a legend. So I said, John, what's the closest you ever actually came getting killed to doing this? He said, well, once we were in a demonstration and I got knocked out on the ground and people were getting beat up pretty bad and I looked up and there was a man hold a long, heavy piece of pipe and he lifted it and was clearly going to bring it right down into my skull, and at the very last second, I turned my neck away and then the crowd pushed him a little bit. A couple of seconds later, I couldn't believe it. I was still alive. I think it's important to remember that. First because he was 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 with his cousins and siblings holding his aunt's hand, more than a dozen of them running around in their 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 those 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 20 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 to take to the streets across the south to seize 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 to Stokely Carmichael because he said, you know, I really -- I think it was a pretty good job for a guy that young, and he come from Troy, Alabama. It must have been painful to lose, but he showed as a young man there are some things that you cannot do to hang on to a position because if you do them, you won't be who you are anymore, and I say 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. We are here today because he had the kind of character he showed when he lost an election. And there was bloody Sunday. He figured he might get arrested, and this was really important not to, for all the reps citing things we all believe about John Lewis. We had a really good mind and he was always trying to figure out how can I make the most of every single moment. So he was getting ready to March from Selma to Montgomery. He wants to get across the what do we remember? He made quite a strange figure. He had a trench coat and a backpack. Now young people probably think it's no big deal, but there weren't that many backpacks back then, and you never saw anybody in a trench coat looking halfway dressed up with a backpack. But John put an apple, an Orange, a toothbrush, toothpaste in the backpack to take care of his body because he figured he would get arrested. And two books. One, a book on America's political tradition to feed his mind, and one, the autobiography of Thomas Merten, a roman-catholic monk who was the son of artists making an astonishing personal transformation. A young guy about to get his brains beat out and planning on going to prison. He's taking that. I think he figured if Thomas Merten could find his way and keep his faith and believe in the future, he, John Lewis could too. And -- so we honor our friend for his faith and for living his faith which the scripture says 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 have 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 ever knows what happened to it. Maybe someday someone 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 as a child, 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 in Selma on the third attempt, John and his comrades showed that sometimes you have to walk into the wind along with 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 also 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 a new 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 quarters. Keep moving. 20 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 John, let's don't get old too soon. I mean, if I had hair like that, I would have it down to my shoulders. But on that night, I was almost out of time and people were -- to be president, and people were asking me, well, if you could do one more thing, what would it be? What do youbecause I had many friends in Atlanta. I said if I could just do one thing, if god came to me tonight and said okay, your time is up. You got to go home. 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 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, 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. Keep moving to the beloved community. John Lewis was many things, but he was a man, a friend, sunshine in a storm. A friend who would walk the stoney roads that he asked you to walk. That would brave the rods he asked you to be whipped by. Always keeping his eyes on the prize, always believing none of us will be free until all of us are equal. I just loved him. I always will. 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 us, we salute, suit up and March on.
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