“It should be the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020,” Clyburn said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “That’s the way to do it. Words may be powerful, but deeds are lasting.”
Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) also echoed this sentiment in interviews on Sunday morning and called for swift passage of the legislation, called the Voting Rights Advancement Act. The House in 2019 passed the legislation, which would restore key protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down in 2013.
Lewis died on Friday night, months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, at a pivotal moment for race relations in the United States. Protesters in cities from coast to coast are demanding widespread reforms in the wake of the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, a black man. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are surging in states nationwide, shedding fresh light on the inequities black Americans encounter in health care.
Clyburn also called for the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., to be renamed in honor of Lewis, a lifelong friend.
The bridge, named after a former Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader, became a critical site during the civil rights movement. On Bloody Sunday in 1965, Alabama state troopers beat peaceful demonstrators there, including Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull.
“Edmund Pettus was a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan,” Clyburn said during an interview on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.” “Take his name off that bridge and replace it with a good man, John Lewis, the personification of the goodness of America, rather than to honor someone who disrespected individual freedoms.”
Recent protests have prompted cities nationwide to reconsider monuments and other honors granted to people with ties to the Confederacy or other racist legacies. An online petition to rename the bridge in Lewis’s honor was drafted last month and has gained more than 450,000 signatures.
Lewis’s death comes amid accusations that Trump has frequently sought to foment racial divisions in the United States as Election Day approaches, rather than unite the country. Trump did tweet a message of sympathy and prayers on Saturday about the Georgia congressman, who was one of the most vocal critics of the president’s policies and rhetoric in Congress.
Pressley, appearing on CNN, said she wished Trump didn’t tweet at all.
“If you really want to honor the life of John Lewis, you don’t do things like gut the fair-housing laws,” she said on CNN. “You don’t sow the seeds of division.”
Pressley said she was a “beneficiary” of Lewis’s activism. “There would be no Ayanna Pressley and countless others were it not for John Lewis,” she said.
Many leaders on Sunday spoke of Lewis’s impact on Congress, where he was known as a moral compass for both parties in an increasingly divided political environment.
“There is a need for more John Lewises,” Colin Powell, a former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Not just one, but many. We got a lot of work to do. ”
In Atlanta, mourners gathered Saturday at the site of a 65-foot-tall mural depicting Lewis. The mural has stood in the Sweet Auburn district — the beating heart of the city’s black business community during the days of segregation — for years. A steady stream of visitors stopped by Saturday to drop off flowers or notes, take pictures, or simply stand and look on.
Bouquets, posters and handwritten messages were left at the site. Some of them had simple messages such as “silence equals violence” and “love one another,” while others shared deeply personal stories of encounters with the congressman or recollections of how he served as an inspiration.
Sisters Saundra Howard Jackson and Lorna Howard also were moved to pay a visit to the mural on Saturday. They live in nearby Decatur but, like Lewis, originally hail from Alabama. They are planning to visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge and hope to see it renamed for Lewis.
“Something in me moved,” Lorna Howard said about hearing of Lewis’s death. She hasn’t left her house much since the pandemic began but made an exception to pay tribute to him.
“They’ve left us,” said Lorna Howard, referring not only to Lewis but also C.T. Vivian and Joseph Lowery. “Those civil rights icons have passed. Who is going to take the baton now? Who is going to keep it going?”
Lewis was just 23 when he delivered his famous speech at the March on Washington in 1963. Many mourners expressed hope that a new generation of leaders emerges from the wave of protests that swept the United States in recent weeks.
“Lewis started out when he was a student — 17, 18 years old,” Howard Jackson said. “The movement struck a chord with him to endure, to get to meet Doctor King. He had the spirit. It took people like him to be courageous and lead peaceful protests to get things changed.”