President Donald Trump said Monday he would not visit the body of John Lewis, who is lying in state in the Dome of the Capitol, the first African American to be given that honor since Rosa Parks.
‘I won’t be going. No,’ President Trump told reporters at the White House before he left for North Carolina.
Trump left Washington D.C. as Lewis’ body arrived at the U.S. Capitol building, where lawmakers honored his legacy as a member of Congress and Civil Rights icon.
Vice President Mike Pence, who served in the House of Representatives with Lewis, is scheduled to pay his respects at the Capitol on Monday night, along with second lady Karen Pence.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and Jill Biden will also be at the Capitol on Monday to honor Lewis.
A Democratic member of Congress from Atlanta since 1987, Lewis died on July 17 of pancreatic cancer at age 80.
His death came amid renewed racial tensions in the United States, which resulted in national protests after George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota, was killed after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
President Trump has been accused of stroking the fires, declaring himself the ‘law and order president’ and denouncing a ‘culture war’ in America.
He called on governors to send in troops against protesters. Lewis criticized the president on the matter.
‘You cannot stop the call of history,’ he said shortly before his death. ‘You may use troopers, you may use fire hoses and water, but it cannot be stopped. There cannot be any turning back. We’ve come too far, made too much progress, to stop now or to go back. The world is seeing what is happening, and we are ready to continue to move forward.’
Last month, in his last public appearance, Lewis joined Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser at a street by the White House that had been painted with a yellow mural reading ‘Black Lives Matter.’
Lewis was honored with a ceremony in Capitol rotunda on Monday afternoon by lawmakers from both political parties. His colleagues on Capitol Hill referred to him as the ‘conscience of Congress.’
A public viewing of his body will begin Monday night. But due to coronavirus restrictions, Lewis’ casket will be placed atop the stairs at the East Front of the Capitol with the public walking by outside and social distancing strictly enforced.
Last year Elijah Cummings, another civil rights advocate, became the first black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol, though he was honored in Statuary Hall, not in the Rotunda, where presidents and other statesmen have lain.
Rosa Parks, the civil rights pioneer, lay in honor there in 2005, receiving the highest honor afforded to a private citizen.
Trump paid tribute to Lewis last Saturday, after he returned from a spot of golf with Senator Lindsey Graham earlier in the day.
‘Saddened to hear the news of civil rights hero John Lewis passing. Melania and I send our prayers to he and his family,’ Trump tweeted.
Otherwise he has said little publicly about Lewis, who was honored by political leaders in both parties for his life’s work.
Lewis did not attend Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 and said the president’s election was not legitimate.
‘I don’t see this President-elect as a legitimate president,’ Lewis told NBC News at the time. ‘I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.’
Trump responded via Twitter, writing in January 2017: ‘Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad.’
Flags at the White House, the Capitol, public buildings, and military bases were all lowered to half-staff across the country Saturday in honor of the pioneer of the civil rights movement turned Congressman.
Lewis was the last surviving member of the Big Six, who together organized the 1963 March on Washington.
He was among the original 13 Freedom Riders who rode buses across the South in 1961 to challenge segregation in public transportation.
The riders were attacked and beaten, and one of their buses was firebombed. But the rides changed the way people traveled, and set the stage for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
He also was beaten in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, as he tried to lead people across Edmund Pettis Bridge on a walk to Montgomery, – a day that became known as Bloody Sunday.
Lewis’ remains were carried across the bridge on a horse-drawn casket on Sunday. His funeral will take place on Thursday in Georgia.