Politicians pray and sing at Memphis stop on congressional civil rights ‘pilgrimage’

About a dozen Democrats and Republicans prayed and sang “Amazing Grace” during a solemn ceremony Friday at the site where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated nearly 50 years ago, marking the start of a three-day congressional “pilgrimage” to sites with ties to the civil rights era in the South, reports the Associated Press.

Members of the House and Senate were joined by faith leaders and activists for a wreath laying at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Among them was U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who played a key role in the civil rights movement and marched with King in 1965 in Selma, Alabama. Lewis hugged the “Amazing Grace” singer, Deborah Manning Thomas, who sobbed as she embraced the 78-year-old congressman.

“He said, ‘Don’t make me cry,’” Manning Thomas said. “I said, ‘Thank you for every blow that you took for me.’”

The museum is at the site of the old Lorraine Motel where King was fatally shot on April 4, 1968. The ceremony took place under the balcony, where a white wreath is affixed to the railing in honor of King.

In all, about 30 members of Congress are expected to join the pilgrimage, which will include stops in Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma — three Alabama cities with ties to King and the civil rights movement. Leading the contingent along with Lewis are Republican Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat who represents Memphis. All three spoke with reporters after the ceremony.

Further from the Commercial Appeal:

…As he spoke of how King had personally influenced his life, Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, wiped away tears with a tissue proffered by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

… “I think of the progress we have made that John Lewis’ courage and the courage of the sanitation workers of Memphis helped to inspire,” said Alexander, who took office early to head off a possible attempt to pardon James Earl Ray. “We have a long way to go, but as (Memphis civil rights leader) Ben Hooks used to say, our country is a work in progress.”

… Republican Rep. David Kustoff and Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen, both from the Memphis area, also attended the event, which took place near a plaque in memory of King that quoted a Bible verse about the jealous brothers of the Hebrew patriarch Joseph: “Behold, here cometh the dreamer … Let us slay him .. and we will see what will become of his dreams.


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