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New nonprofit aims to rename Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis

New nonprofit aims to rename Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis
© Aaron Schwartz

A new nonprofit organization is launching with the aim of renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., after civil rights leader Rep. John LewisJohn LewisDemocrats lead in diversity in new Congress despite GOP gains Biden must look to executive action to fulfill vow to Black Americans The purposeful is political: Gen Z bowls over their doubters MORE (D-Ga.). 

Michael Starr Hopkins, a political strategist, launched “The John Lewis Bridge Project” Monday after his online petition seeking to rename the bridge for Lewis received more than 200,000 signatures

“Seeing the response to the petition, we are at 200,000 signatures in a matter of days, has been really reaffirming to me,” Hopkins told The Hill Sunday. 

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“I really questioned where our country was going and whether or not people were willing to stand up and demand change, and to see protesters on the streets [and] the reaction to our petition, has reaffirmed my belief that we will not only get through this but come out stronger on the other side," Hopkins added. 

Hopkins launched an online petition last week to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) requesting the bridge be renamed for Lewis, who almost loft his life during a march across the bridge in 1965. 

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 in what is known as “Bloody Sunday.” 

Shortly after the march, the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed. 

“I can't think of a more fitting person to have that bridge named after,” Hopkins said of Lewis. 

He also said that the bridge should be named for Lewis now, and far too often people wait until after officials die to commemorate them. 

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"While he’s still here and while we can, [we should] tell him how much we we appreciate his dedication and all he scarified," Hopkins said. 

Pettus, a Confederate general and leader in the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, “doesn't deserve to have his name on that bridge,” Hopkins said. 

“We should not be honoring someone who not only aided in dividing this country and going to war with this country, but was part of a terrorist organization that murdered millions of African Americans,” Hopkins added. 

The bridge was named for Pettus in 1940, more than three decades after Pettus’s death. 

In addition to renaming the Selma bridge, “The John Lewis Project” will also work to support efforts to remove and replace other existing signs of the Confederacy and white supremacy. 

“If you go to countries like Germany or Italy you don't see statues of Hitler or Mussolini,” Hopkins said. “There's certainly a spot for Confederate monuments in museums, because we can't forget our history, but as an African American man walking down the street and seeing statues of Robert E. Lee or seeing the name of Edmund Pettus across a bridge, that's hurtful. These are people who murdered my ancestors, who didn't believe that I was worthy of citizenship or basic human treatment.” 

Hopkins’s petition has been endorsed by Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Rep. Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellDemocrats to determine leaders after disappointing election Century of the Woman: The State of Women and Voting Rights Female lawmakers, officials call for more women at all levels of government to improve equity MORE (D-Ala.), as well as Ava DuVernay, who directed the 2014 film “Selma” that depicts the march, and actress Kerry Washington. 

Hopkins said he has reached out to Lewis's staff about this, but also respects the sensitivity of the situation and not forcing the congressman "in the middle of this." 

Protesters have been calling for memorializations of Confederate figures and white supremacists to be removed amid nationwide demonstrations over racial inequality and police brutality sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. 

In some states, statues have been toppled by protesters. In other cases, lawmakers have slated statues for removal.