State Watch

More than 100K sign petition to rename Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis

Aaron Schwartz

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition to rename the Edmund Pettus bridge after Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat and civil rights leader who participated in the 1965 march across the Selma bridge where he and other activists were attacked. 

“It’s far past time to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge after Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon that nearly gave his life on that bridge,” political strategist Michael Starr Hopkins said in the description of the online petition he created. 

“Edmund Pettus was a bitter racist, undeserving of the honor bestowed upon him. As we wipe away this country’s long stain of bigotry, we must also wipe away the names of men like Edmund Pettus,” Hopkins added. 

The online petition to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) had more than 100,000 signatures as of Monday evening.

A spokesperson for Ivey was not immediately available for comment in response to the petition. 

Lewis joined hundreds of marchers during the 1965 protest for voting rights. Marchers intended to go from Selma to Montgomery, but they were stopped on the other side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and met by police officers and vigilantes with sticks and billy clubs. 

Lewis was nearly beaten to death in the attack which is known as “Bloody Sunday.” Shortly after the march, the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed. 

The push to rename the bridge comes as activists across the country are calling for statues and memorials commemorating Confederate figures to be taken down as nationwide protests continue over racial inequality and police brutality. The protests were sparked by the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day. 

The bridge was named for Pettus in1940, more than three decades after Pettus’s death. Pettus was a Confederate general and a leader in the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, according to Smithsonian Magazine

Ava DuVernay, the director of the 2014 film “Selma” that depicts the march, tweeted on Saturday that she had signed the petition and encouraged others to do so, too. 

“I’ve just signed a petition about this bridge to dignity as seen in SELMA. It is named after a KKK grand wizard and confederate warlord,” she tweeted. “Edmund Pettus Bridge should be the John Lewis Bridge. Named for a hero. Not a murderer. Join this call. It’s past due.”

Hopkins told NBC News the idea to create the petition came to him after watching DuVernay’s film after days of protesting. 

“I was kind of taking an evening to just relax and watch some movies, and as I was watching ‘Selma’ I realized we wait far too often until people are gone to honor them,” Hopkins said.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who represents the district that includes the Edmund Pettus Bridge, told AL.com she now supports renaming the bridge for Lewis, a position she had publicly opposed in 2015 amid a push to rename the bridge. 

“There’s a righteous irony there, sweet justice, that a bridge named after a man who inflamed hatred, racial hatred is now known worldwide as a symbol of equality and justice,” Sewell told AL.com. “What was meant for evil, God used it for good. I truly believed that I still believe that, but I also know this moment requires us to see things, do things through an anti-racist lens.

Noting the change in her position, Sewell said it’s  a “different time and we all have to evolve.” 

“I can’t ask my colleagues to make a change in their views if I’m not willing to look at all of mine,” she added. 

She said she supports naming the bridge after Lewis, calling him the “clearly” the “only person’s name that should be on the bridge.”

Tags Alabama Bloody Sunday Edmund Pettus Bridge John Lewis Selma Selma to Montgomery marches Terri Sewell

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