- An existing effort to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, saw a resurgence on Saturday following the Friday death of the civil rights leader and Georgia Rep. John Lewis.
- The bridge was the location of “Bloody Sunday,” the violent attack on civil rights demonstrators by police and vigilantes, including Lewis, in March 1965.
- The bridge was named after Pettus – a Confederate general and leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan – in 1940, three decades after he died, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
- A petition to rename the bridge after Lewis, created in June as part of the John Lewis Bridge Project, has so far amassed nearly 400,000 signatures as of Saturday morning.
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Already existing calls to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama – the site of a violent clash between police and peaceful civil rights demonstrators in 1965 – has grown following the death of civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis.
The bridge was the site of “Bloody Sunday,” the violent March 7, 1965 clash between 600 peaceful civil rights protestors led by a then 25-year-old Lewis, and baton-wielding police, and vigilantes waving confederate flags, according to History.com. Lewis was seriously injured as part of his involvement in the protest.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, Pettus was considered a respected figure in Alabama during his time, serving as both a lawyer and a US senator. His history, however, is clouded by his position as both a decorated Confederate general and a leader of the Alabama chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, according to Smithsonian.
The bridge, which sits atop the Alabama River, was named after Pettus in 1940 – three decades after he died, the magazine reported.
“The bridge was named for him, in part, to memorialise his history, of restraining and imprisoning African-Americans in their quest for freedom after the Civil War,” University of Alabama history professor John Giggie told Smithsonian.
After the civil rights leader died Friday, social media lit up with calls to rename the historic landmark.
“There’s a bridge needs a new name,” former New York US Attorney Preet Bharara, said in a tweet early Saturday.
There’s a bridge needs a new name pic.twitter.com/RjwrzAAZrA
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) July 18, 2020
“It would be fitting to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis the conscience of Congress,” longtime NBC News journalist Andrea Mitchell said in a tweet. “He once told me how the Kennedy brothers did not agree to the Oval Office meeting with Dr. King before the ’63 March until afterward because they feared it would be violent.”
Similar calls were prevalent across Twitter on Saturday morning.
Today’s a good day to add one’s name to the petition to change the name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the John Lewis Bridge. Sign here: https://t.co/Gk2mZWTMpP
— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) July 18, 2020
While said they supported renaming the bridge after Lewis, they also expressed a desire for a renewed focus on the Voting Rights Act following the congressman’s death. The Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965, was largely gutted by the Supreme Court in its 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.
100%, let’s rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge for John Lewis.
But can we also call the legislation restoring the Voting Rights Act the John Lewis Act? Then pass it into law (the ball’s in your court, Senate GOP) so we can begin to tackle pernicious, ongoing voter suppression.
— Ian Sams (@IanSams) July 18, 2020
While the congressman’s Friday death amplified calls to rename the “Bloody Sunday” bridge – calls to rename the landmark after Lewis have circulated for years, Alabama.com reported. This year, the effort has been spearheaded by The John Lewis Bridge Project, a nonprofit founded by political strategist Michael Starr Hopkins, according to the outlet.
As of Saturday morning, more than 390,000 people have signed a petition organised by Hopkins to rename the Selma bridge after the civil rights leader.
“Edmund Pettus was a bitter racist, undeserving of the honour bestowed upon him,” Hopkins wrote alongside the petition. “As we wipe away this country’s long stain of bigotry, we must also wipe away the names of men like Edmund Pettus.”
As NBC News noted, the petition, which began circulating in June, comes amid renewed calls to dismantle monuments and rename institutions linked to the Confederacy and racism.