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Family Remembers John Lewis as Fighter for ‘Least of Us’

The Rev. Darryl Caldwell speaks as the casket of the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., lies in repose during a service celebrating "The Boy from Troy" at Troy University, July 25, 2020, in Troy, Ala. Lewis died July 17, 2020.

John Lewis, the late U.S. congressman and civil rights leader, was remembered Saturday in a memorial service in Alabama as someone who fought for "the least of us."

At the service at Troy University in Alabama, on the opening day of six days of tributes, five siblings and a great-nephew spoke of Lewis as a loving and fearless family man.

"He'd gravitate toward the least of us," said brother Henry "Grant" Lewis. "He worked a lifetime to help others."

The siblings reminded the crowd of their brother's famous injunction to make "good trouble" — ruffling feathers when it was for a righteous cause.

The events that began in Troy, Lewis’ hometown, will culminate next week with his funeral in Georgia.

At Saturday's public service, Lewis lay in repose as visitors paid their respects. Later in the day, a private ceremony honored him at a chapel in Selma, Alabama, ahead of another public viewing.

On Sunday, Lewis’ body will cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where he and other voting rights demonstrators were beaten in 1965 on a day known as “Bloody Sunday.”

His body will be carried to Alabama’s capital, Montgomery, where Mayor Steven Reed is encouraging people to line the sidewalks on the final leg of that journey. Officials are asking the public to wear face masks and socially distance.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff on Saturday and Sunday in honor of Lewis.

During the nearly weeklong memorial events, Lewis' body will lie in state at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta and the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced earlier this week that visitors could pay their respects to Lewis in the U.S. Capitol on Monday and Tuesday.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the public viewing will take place outside the Capitol instead of inside the Rotunda, where viewings are traditionally held. Lawmakers said social distancing would be “strictly enforced” and face masks would be required.

The Georgia Democrat will be the second Black lawmaker to lie in state at the Capitol, following Representative Elijah Cummings, who died last year.

Lewis’ family said that there would also be a procession through Washington next week and that members of the public would be able to pay their respects in a “socially distant manner.”

Lewis’ funeral will be held Thursday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was once the pastor. Following the service, which will be private, Lewis will be interred at South View Cemetery in Atlanta.

Lewis died last Friday at age 80 after a yearlong battle with advanced-stage pancreatic cancer.

He rose to fame as a leader of the modern-day American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s. At 23, he worked closely with King and was the last surviving speaker from the August 1963 March on Washington where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

The civil rights movement led Lewis into a career in politics. He was elected to the Atlanta City Council in 1981 and to Congress in 1986, calling the latter victory “the honor of a lifetime.” He served 17 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia’s 5th District.