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John Lewis Is the First Black Lawmaker to Lie in State in the Capitol Rotunda

2020-07-27 13:00:07

Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and a civil rights icon, will lie in state Monday in the Capitol Rotunda, the first Black lawmaker to receive one of the highest American honors, before a viewing for the public to be held outside.

With the Capitol closed to the public amid the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Lewis will spend only a few hours lying in state under the Capitol dome after an invitation-only ceremony on Monday afternoon, according to plans released by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, and Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader.

Among those paying their respects will be Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Afterward, Mr. Lewis’s coffin will be moved outside to the Capitol steps, and members of the public will be able to line up — with masks required and social distancing enforced — to view it from the plaza below on Monday evening and all day Tuesday.

Here is the schedule of events to honor him.

There will be an invitation-only arrival ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

The Rev. Grainger Browning Jr. of Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, Md., will give the invocation, followed by remarks from Ms. Pelosi and Mr. McConnell.

There will be a presentation of wreaths by Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader; Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the minority leader; Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader; and Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina.

The vocal artist Wintley Phipps will sing the Christian hymns “Amazing Grace” and “It Is Well.”

Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and the majority whip, will give the benediction.

Instead of remaining under the Capitol dome while members of the public pay respects, as is traditional, Mr. Lewis’s coffin will be moved outside to the Capitol steps to allow for a more pandemic-friendly viewing. Members of the public will be able to line up in a socially distanced way to see him lying in state from the plaza below.

Even with the health precautions, Mr. Lewis’s family discouraged people from traveling from out of town to the Capitol amid the pandemic, instead asking for “virtual tributes” using the hashtags #BelovedCommunity or #HumanDignity.

The public viewing of Mr. Lewis’s coffin will continue all day Tuesday.

Mr. Lewis, a 17-term congressman from Georgia and the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, died July 17 after battling pancreatic cancer.

He was known as the “conscience of the Congress” for his moral authority acquired through years of protest for racial equality — including when he was brutally beaten during voting rights demonstrations in Selma, Ala., in 1965 and across the Jim Crow South. On Sunday, he made his final journey across the Edmund Pettus Bridge there, his coffin carried by a horse-drawn caisson past the very spot where a state trooper wielding a club fractured his skull 55 years ago.

Last year, Representative Elijah E. Cummings became the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol, though he was honored in Statuary Hall, not in the Rotunda, where presidents and other statesmen have lain. The site is reserved for the nation’s most revered figures, most recently including President George Bush and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. Rosa Parks, the civil rights pioneer, lay in honor there in 2005, receiving the highest honor afforded to a private citizen.


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