Hundreds tribute local activist Lillian Miles Lewis

Staff Report | 1/11/2013, 1:25 p.m.
Hundreds of mourners gathered here this week to honor longtime civil rights activist and civic leader Lillian Lewis, the wife ...

ATLANTA – Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Mayor Kasim Reed and civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson were among the hundreds of dignitaries and other mourners who gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church this week to honor longtime activist and civic leader Lillian Lewis, the wife of U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

Lewis, who died New Year’s Eve at age 73, was remembered as a quiet supporter of the civil rights movement who inspired and nurtured her husband’s early entry into politics.

“People mentioned that everyone knew the congressman, but they did not know his wife… That’s simply because Lillian was in the background making things work,” said local activist Xernona Clayton, a close friend of Lillian Lewis. “Lillian was about doing, not showing.”

Young, a longtime friend of the Lewis family, told mourners that Lillian Lewis had a quiet strength that was focused on getting things done – not just talking about getting things done.

“Lillian was outspoken but never pushy and never obnoxious,” said Young, a former Atlanta mayor. She just said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free – even if it does make you mad.”

Young said Lillian Lewis also helped lay a foundation for the social and civil rights black people enjoy today.

“Throughout your life, and throughout the partnership that you and Lillian had, you have helped to shape our world far more than any of us can imagine,” Young told Lewis from the pulpit.

Jackson, who offered reflections on Lewis’ life, said: “The world celebrates this peace loving, freedom fighting woman.”

Lewis earned two degrees, one in English from the then California State College at Los Angeles and a masters degree in Library Science from the University of Southern California. She met Congressman John Lewis in 1967 and married him a year later in 1968.

Though stricken in later years by illness and confined to a nursing home, Lewis will always be remembered, mourners said.

“My good friend is gone, but the memories will stay,” Clayton said.