The first of a six-day celebration of the late civil rights activist and Democratic congressman Rep. John Lewis began Saturday, with his body being first presented in his hometown of Troy and then journeying to Selma, Ala.
"Selma Salutes Congressman John Lewis" was expected to take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Central Time. Following the service, held at the Brown Chapel AME Church, Lewis will lie in repose, which is open to the public.
Lewis, also known as “the Boy from Troy" who was a voting rights activist and called the “conscience of the U.S. Congress,” was remembered during a public funeral service at the University of Troy earlier Saturday.
The civil rights activist died at the age of 80 on July 17 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Troy Mayor Jason Reeves praised Lewis’ strength in "confronting Alabama state troopers" during the Civil Rights movement.
"And now Alabama state troopers will lead his body around this state as we celebrate his life," Reeves said earlier this week as Lewis’ body was delivered ahead of the memorial, "A Service Celebrating 'The Boy from Troy.'"
His casket was accompanied by a ceremonial military guard and draped in an American flag.
Lewis remained an icon for civil rights during the George Floyd protests that broke out in May.
The late congressman released a statement at the time expressing his deepest sorrow for the men and women still enduring systemic racism in the United States.
“My fellow Americans, this is a special moment in our history. Just as people of all faiths and no faiths, and all backgrounds, creeds and colors banded together decades ago to fight for equality and justice in a peaceful, orderly, non-violent fashion, we must do so again,” Lewis wrote at the time.
Lewis, an activist during the 1960s, was arrested for using a “white restroom” in 1961; he told demonstrators in late May that he understood their pain.
“I know your pain, your rage, your sense of despair and hopelessness,” Lewis tweeted. “Justice has, indeed, been denied for far too long. Rioting, looting, and burning is not the way. Organize. Demonstrate. Sit-in. Stand-up. Vote. Be constructive, not destructive.”
More than 60 years ago, in 1958, Lewis met with Martin Luther King Jr. at the age of 18; he had the ambition to attend an all-white university.
"He worked a lifetime to help others and make the world a better place in which to live," Lewis’s brother Grant said Saturday beofre sharing a memory of his brother being sworn into Congress.
"What were you thinking?" Grant asked him after.
"I was thinking this is a long way from the cotton fields of Alabama," Lewis replied.
Lewis served 17 years from the 5th District of Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives.
His body will be laid to rest Sunday at 10 a.m. in the state Capitol in Montgomery, after first being carried across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma — marking the same route civil rights activist marched in 1965.