In 1965, John Lewis tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama in a march for civil rights. Less than a decade later, Calvin Smyre was elected to represent the citizens of Columbus Georgia. Today, Smyre is the longest serving member of the Georgia House. He honored Congressman Lewis as he lies in state at the Georgia capitol with the following remarks:
“Governor Brian Kemp; Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; State Representative Karen Bennett (D-Stone Mountain), chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus; constitutional officers and members of the Georgia General Assembly:
“To the family of John Robert Lewis, welcome to the rotunda of the Georgia State Capitol where on today, we pay our final respects and show our admiration to a fallen hero and often called ‘the conscious of the Congress’ and to bid him farewell. We hurt inside and mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis, yet we cherish the life he lived and the contributions he made to humanity. We thank him for his sacrifices and all that he gave that others could enjoy a better life. He was a fearless warrior in real life.
“We all have stories of his personal charm, his greatness, his many struggles and the strength of his character. A giant redwood tree has fallen in the Georgia forest of life.
“Having been elected in 1974 over 46 years ago brings to mind the events of March 7, 1965, Bloody Sunday. John paid a heavy price on the Selma to Montgomery march as he was badly beaten and thought he had died. It was because of his courage, commitment to the struggle and getting in good trouble that gave me and many others the opportunity to seek public office. History records that it was the events of that dreaded day that led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which propelled and opened the way for African Americans to seek public office and bring needed change in creating good public policy which determines our quality of life. He always stated that voting was so precious. People died for our right to vote.
“John Lewis, the son of a sharecropper, was told, ‘don’t get in the way, and don’t get in trouble.’ He was inspired by Rosa Parks whom he met at 17 years old and a year later, meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. at 18 years of age. These two people inspired John Lewis to get in the way and find necessary good trouble.
“In the emotional John Lewis speech that was played during the U.S. Capitol memorial, which brought tears to my eyes, he gave and left us a mandate: a mandate to stand up, speak up and speak out, a mandate to find a way to get in the way and make our state and country a better place. ‘Keep the faith, we not going back, we are going forward,’ he stated. We must keep the faith and that’s our moral obligation. Never become bitter; never hate; we are one people. There may be some setbacks, but we must always keep the faith. Never give up; never give up; that’s our calling.
“John, in your memory and as a legacy, you will continue to motivate us, inspire us and be a solid source of strength. You will be missed, but we will cherish the memories and the moments. You left us with many challenges to seek answers and certain principles to guide us. Your mark on America is forever established and recorded.
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated that, ‘If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.’ John Robert Lewis found something he would die for: freedom, oh freedom. The loss of John Lewis reminds us to never be afraid of where we are going when we know God is going with us. God be with you, John Robert Lewis. Job well done thy faithful servant. Job well done.
“Our closing prayer: Lord of all, we praise you for all who have entered into their rest and reached the Promised Land where you are seen face to face. Lord, give us grace to follow in their footsteps as they follow in the way of your son. Thank you for the memory of those you have called to yourself: by each memory, turn our hearts from things seen to things unseen and lead us till we come to the eternal rest you have prepared for your people, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Representative Calvin Smyre represents the citizens of District 135, which includes portions of Muscogee County. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974 and currently serves as Vice Chairman on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education. He also serves on the Higher Education and Rules committees.