In his eulogy for John Lewis, President Barack Obama honored the late congressman and civil rights leader as being a “founding father” of a “fuller, fairer, better America” that still lies in the distance.
“America was built by John Lewises. He as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals,” Obama said on Thursday at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. “And someday, when we do finish that long journey toward freedom, when we do form a more perfect union — whether it’s years from now, or decades, or even if it takes another two centuries — John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.”
The former president also called on politicians to do right by Lewis’ legacy by ensuring all Americans — including former inmates “who’ve earned their second chance” and residents in Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico — are automatically registered to vote, have proper access to polling locations and early voting and can take the day off work to vote by making Election Day a national holiday. Obama also called for the end of the filibuster, which he described as a “Jim Crow relic.”
“If politicians want to honor John, and I’m so grateful for the legacy of work of all the Congressional leaders who are here, but there’s a better way than a statement calling him a hero. You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. And by the way, naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that is a fine tribute. But John wouldn’t want us to stop there, trying to get back to where we already were,” Obama said. “Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better.”
But Obama also reminded listeners that they themselves had the responsibility to exercise their right to vote.
“We cannot treat voting as an errand to run if we have some time. We have to treat it as the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy,” he said. “Like John, we have to give it all we have.”