John Lewis’ death renews calls to rename Edmund Pettus Bridge

Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the 1965 attack dubbed 'Bloody Sunday'.
Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the 1965 attack dubbed 'Bloody Sunday'.(Source: WSFA 12 News)
Published: Jul. 20, 2020 at 12:43 PM EDT
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SELMA, Ala. (WSFA) - The death of Congressman and Civil Rights Icon John Lewis has sparked a renewed interest in the renaming of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

The push comes amid a national conversation to rename monuments and symbols that celebrate the Confederacy.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma is historically known as the bridge that Lewis and other demonstrators marched across in a fight for equal voting rights in 1965. The bridge is named after Confederate General and supposed Klu Klux Klan leader Edmund Pettus.

An organization petitioning for the name to change, “John Lewis Bridge Project,” has over 460,000 signatures, as of Sunday.

“I think Edmund Pettus’s name belongs in a museum, not on a bridge,” said Founder of the John Lewis Bridge Project, Michael Starr Hopkins. “There are so many other people we can honor with this. I think leaving Edmund Pettus’ name up there has psychological effects that we don’t really realize.”

An organization is trying to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to the John Lewis Bridge.
An organization is trying to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to the John Lewis Bridge.(Source: John Lewis Bridge Project)

The organization is pushing for the bridge to be named after foot soldier John Lewis.

“I chose John Lewis because I think John Lewis best represents everything that was so powerful about the movement,” Hopkins said. “When he was attacked on that bridge and his skull was fractured but he didn’t give up, he kept going, and he continued to dedicate his life to improving the lot of the entire country, not just African Americans.”

Hopkins says since Lewis’ death their website has receive an overwhelming amount of support.

“We have bipartisan support on this. There have been Republicans and Democrats from all over the country and in Alabama who have come out and said that this is something we should do. We should honor John Lewis’ legacy and honor the foot soldiers who marched with him,” Hopkins said. “Congresswomen Sewell is in support of this, but she like myself, wants to see the people of Selma support this as well because that’s going to be integral to this movement.”

Hopkins said he started this movement with the intention that Lewis would be able to see his name on the bridge.

“When I started this, I said, ‘I hope that one day John Lewis would be able to walk across that bridge and see his name on it,’” Hopkins said. “That’s not going to happen. But he may no longer be physically with us, but he’s with us in spirit and so his spirit needs to guide us and we need to continue to start ‘good trouble.‘”

Asked for comment, Gov. Kay Ivey’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, said the governor knew and had the highest respect for Lewis, and added that she “is more than willing to have these discussions and to work with the Legislature, should this reach her desk.”

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