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Alabama service kicks off days of tribute to US rights icon Lewis

By AFP - Jul 25,2020 - Last updated at Jul 25,2020

WASHINGTON — A memorial service in Alabama on Saturday for John Lewis will kick off days of tributes to the revered civil rights leader and congressman, including the high honor of lying in state on Monday in the Rotunda of the US Capitol.

Lewis, the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus and a man known as the "conscience of the Congress", died of cancer on July 17, aged 80.

Starting at 11:00am (15:00 GMT) on Saturday, members of the public will be able to view Lewis's body as it lies in state in an arena at Troy University in Alabama, the state of his birth.

In keeping with coronavirus precautions, the number of visitors will be limited to 800, social distancing will be enforced and masks required — a far cry from pre-coronavirus practices, when a memorial for an icon like Lewis would have drawn many thousands from across the country.

Lewis was born on a farm outside of Troy, the son of sharecroppers, and attended segregated schools. Inspired by the peaceful protests of rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, he rose to join their ranks, and since 1987 represented a Georgia district in Congress.

After the ceremony on Saturday in Troy, commemorations move to Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama for a private remembrance followed by a public viewing — again with coronavirus precautions — starting at 8:00pm.

On Sunday at 10:00am, a processional will escort Lewis's casket from Brown Chapel to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was there that Lewis, during an historic 1965 civil rights march that came to be known as "Bloody Sunday", had his skull fractured by police, one of many times he suffered such beatings.

On Sunday afternoon, events move to the city of Montgomery, where the public has been encouraged to line sidewalks as the processional travels to the State Capitol. Lewis will lie in state there beginning at 

3:00pm, according to local media. Visitors will be required to wear masks.

On Monday, Lewis will lie in state in the Rotunda of the US Capitol for viewing, initially, by a small, invitation-only group.

The casket will then be moved to the top of the steps at the Capitol's East Front for public viewing on Monday evening and all day on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post. Masks and social distancing will be required.

Out of concern for the pandemic, the Lewis family has asked that people not travel from across the country to pay respects, and instead post virtual tributes.

The week of solemn commemorations will end on Thursday in Atlanta, Georgia, where Lewis will be laid to rest after a private service in the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King once preached.


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