If you watched the news coverage of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) being laid to rest, you likely saw the distinctive green buses from Georgia Coach Lines.
For owners Clarence and Wendy Cox, this important assignment meant being there for a lifelong friend.
Clarence Cox, 58, was a teen when he first met the civil rights leader. They would occasionally converse at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached and pastored. The church was where many, including three former presidents, gathered recently to honor Rep. Lewis and his legacy.
“I grew up in Ebenezer Baptist Church, where (Lewis) was also a member,” Clarence said. “I’ve known him since my high school days. I thought he was an awesome man because, the thing about him that was so different, is that he was approachable. He took an interest in you and how you were doing.”
Over the decades, their interactions deepened as they worked on professional issues together.
During Clarence’s lengthy law enforcement career, they partnered on legislation and other issues.
Work with Lewis’ office
Most recently, Clarence had worked with Michael Collins, Lewis’ senior policy adviser, supporting the CERTS Act to provide emergency funding to save the struggling motorcoach industry, which has been sidelined by the pandemic-related closures. After Lewis’ death, Clarence told Collins he wanted to help any way he could.
They decided that Georgia Coach Lines would be responsible for transporting the family, staff, and committee members who set up events around Southeast Georgia for several days of activities.
They were part of a motorcade starting in Atlanta, Georgia to Troy, Montgomery, and then to Selma, Alabama, where Lewis’ body was escorted across the famed Edmund Pettus Bridge, which was the site of the conflict of Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965, when police attacked civil rights movement demonstrators as they were attempting to march to the state capital, Montgomery. The demonstrators successfully made the crossing three weeks later and, in 2013, the bridge was declared a National Historic Landmark.
“The part that overwhelmed me with feelings was seeing him going across the Edmund Pettus Bridge one last time,” Wendy Cox said. “Our motorcoaches were directly behind him, with those rose petals that symbolize the blood that was shed that day, which was very emotional for me.”
Clarence said he was ready for this once-in-a-lifetime role, thanks to support from the United Motorcoach Association, which provided members with the free UMA ASSURClean program. He had all his cleaning protocols in place, and the company practiced social distancing, limiting capacity to 28 people on the coaches.
“We did a lot of signage on the motorcoach so that they will know exactly where to sit and not necessarily have to guess,” Wendy said. “We had just trained the drivers on how to use various apparatuses that we have for the decontamination process. It just kind of fell in place.”
Doing the job right was important, added Clarence.
“It’s a great feeling to be a part of it because it was his final ride home,” Clarence said, adding that when the box carrying the casket came off a plane from Washington, D.C., there wasn’t a place to put it immediately, so it was stored under one of his buses. Being able to care for Rep. Lewis one last time was special.
Law enforcement career
Before taking over family-owned Georgia Coach Lines in 2017, Clarence had a distinguished career in law enforcement. He served as president for the National Organization for Black Law Enforcement Officers (NOBLE) from 2017-18.
He specialized in drug enforcement for the majority of this 38-year career in law enforcement, commanding several multi-agency drug task forces. He is the former police chief of Clayton County Public Schools (creating the Clayton County School Police), and one of the original agents assigned to Georgia’s Homeland Security Task Force post 9/11.
During his law enforcement career, Clarence was also involved in the motorcoach industry, helping his father and uncle run the business they started in 1985. “I was dribbling and dabbling,” he said. “My first real taste as a motorcoach owner was in 1992, when I bought an MC-9.”
Clarence and Wendy have appreciated the support they received from the motorcoach industry. In the past week. They have been inundated with calls from operators congratulating them after seeing their motorcoaches in various televised news reports across the country.
“They called to say ‘this is great, you guys are representing us well,’” he said.
Wendy added, “It was indeed our honor and we are so grateful for the opportunity, and we appreciate the outpouring of accolades from our colleagues, family, and friends.”