The March 7, 1965 bridge crossing was a pivotal demonstration in the fight for African-American suffrage.


WASHINGTON – The last time House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saw Rep. John Lewis, a few weeks before he died, she brought him a pin that said: “One country, one destiny.”

Those were the words embroidered into the coat that Abraham Lincoln was wearing the night he was assassinated by a Confederate sympathizer.

On Monday, Lewis – the civil rights icon known as the “conscience of the Congress” – will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, his body resting on the same wooden platform constructed in 1865 to support Lincoln’s casket.

“John’s life was about that: One nation, one country, one destiny, more perfect union,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said on Sunday. “Now he’s sharing that resting place with Abraham Lincoln.”

Lewis, who died July 17 from pancreatic cancer at 80, arrives in Washington Monday after two days of tributes in Alabama.

His motorcade is expected to pass by several notable landmarks, including Black Lives Matter Plaza, the site of one of his last public appearances.

“On his way out of town, he went to Black Lives Matter Plaza,” Pelosi said on CBS’ Face the Nation, “and really passed the torch.”

Accompanied by a military honor guard, Lewis is scheduled to arrive Monday afternoon at the Capitol, where he served for more than thirty years.

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will speak at an arrival ceremony that is limited in size because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wreaths will be presented by other House and Senate leaders and by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

“I remember walking into his office and looking around at what was almost a photography gallery, with lots of pictures from the ’60s, and the challenges and the struggles that he had faced to really make it easier for people like me to become a United States senator,” Scott, the first African American senator from South Carolina told USA TODAY.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., will give the benediction. Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in Congress, met Lewis 60 years ago at a meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta. 

“The country lost a hero, our civil rights movements lost an icon, and I lost a very special friend on July 17,” Clyburn wrote in an opinion piece last week. “He was the personification of the collective activism of that era.”

Because of social distancing requirements from COVID-19, the casket will be moved to the Capitol’s east front for public viewing after lawmakers have paid their respects. Mask-wearing members of the public can file past the steps on the East Plaza. from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign announced Sunday night he and Jill Biden would travel to Washington to pay their respects to Lewis. 

Public viewing will continue Tuesday, from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Lewis will lie in state in Georgia’s capitol rotunda Wednesday before his funeral in Atlanta Thursday.

George Herbert Walker Bush was the last person to lay in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, an honor to give to American statesmen and military leaders, including twelve U.S. Presidents. 

Longtime congressman Elijah E. Cummings, who died last October, was the first African American lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol, though not in the rotunda.

In 2005, civil rights icon Rosa Parks laid “in honor” in the rotunda, the tribute given to private citizens who have not served in government or the military. 

The Lincoln catafalque, rough pine boards nailed together and covered in a black cloth, has been used for most of those who have laid “in state” in the rotunda.

The base and platform have occasionally been altered to accommodate the larger size of modern coffins, but otherwise has changed little since Lincoln’s time, according to the Architect of the Capitol.

When the cloth covering has needed to be replaced over the years, the style of the drapery has remained the same.

Because of the pandemic, the Lewis family has encouraged supporters to organize “John Lewis Virtual Love Events” in their homes to watch the ceremonies rather than traveling to public ceremonies. People can also show support by tying a blue or purple ribbon on their doors or in their front yards, by posting tributes on social media using the hashtags  #BelovedCommunity or #HumanDignity, or by leaving a written tribute at

Members of Congress spent hours on the floor last week, offering testimonials.

“In the coming days, when the streets are filled with those who mourn John, we will see people in fine suits and people in rags,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. “We will see laborers and professionals. We will see faces pained by disease or poverty. But all of them will rejoice that John Lewis lived.”

Contributing: Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY.

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