The bridge in Selma, Alabama, where Rep. John Lewis had his skull fractured by an Alabama State Trooper still bears the name of a Confederate general and KKK leader. But in the aftermath of the civil rights icon’s death on Friday, a group is looking to have the bridge renamed in Lewis’ honor.
Nearly 500,000 people, as of Sunday evening, had signed a petition calling for the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to become the John Lewis Bridge. The bridge, which was opened in 1940, played an important role in American history as the setting of “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965. On that day, protesters attempting to win voting rights for African-Americans in the South were attacked and brutally beaten by police at the bridge. Seventeen marchers were sent to the hospital, and Lewis was left with scars on his head that would last the rest of his life.
The bridge’s namesake, Edmund Pettus, was both a former U.S. Senator and a former leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. As a fighter for the Confederacy and a supporter of slavery, many believe that his name should be wiped away from such a landmark in the struggle for racial equality.
“Edmund Pettus was a bitter racist, undeserving of the honor bestowed upon him,” Michael Starr Hopkins, who created the John Lewis Bridge Project, said in a statement. “As we wipe away this country’s long stain of bigotry, we must also wipe away the names of men like Edmund Pettus.”
Prominent voices who have endorsed the renaming effort include Ava DuVernay, who directed the critically acclaimed film “Selma,” and South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, who elaborated on his position in an interview with “Meet The Press” over the weekend.
“I think you ought to take a nice picture of that bridge with Pettus’ name on it, put it in a museum somewhere dedicated to the Confederacy, and then rename that bridge and repaint it, redecorate it: the John R. Lewis Bridge,” he said.
“Take his name off that bridge and replace it with a good man — John Lewis, the personification of the goodness of America — rather than to honor someone who disrespected individual freedoms.”
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