BY Francis Akhalbey, 10:00am January 20, 2021,

Selma could soon vote to rename infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge where voting rights marchers were beaten

Congressman John Lewis, the Obamas, George Bush as well as Civil Rights Movement veterans, among others, marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 2015 -- (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

For about 80 years, one of the most conspicuous and famous landmarks in Selma continues to bear the name of a White supremacist who was a Confederate general and a former Grand Dragon of the Alabama Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

A landmark that always brings back haunting memories, the Edmund Pettus Bridge was also the site of the disturbing “Bloody Sunday” clash where State Troopers violently attacked peaceful African-American protestors who were embarking on a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965.

The late John Lewis, who was then a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader and was instrumental in organizing the marches, was severely injured and almost died. The horrifying events that day also drove President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.

In an effort to rename the bridge, possibly after Lewis, a lawmaker in the state recently introduced legislation that would allow residents in the city to vote on giving the landmark a new name, NBC News reported. The legislation was announced on Martin Luther King Jr. Day by Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier (D). The bill is also reportedly expected to be supported by Rep. Prince Chestnut (D).

In a statement, Sanders-Fortier said the legislation aims “to give local people the ability to influence removing the name of Edmund Pettus’s name from the bridge and let the people of Selma, including the foot soldiers who risked their lives on the bridge, decide what it should be named.”

Sen. Hank Sanders, the father of Sanders-Fortier, had initially attempted to get a similar bill passed, but it did not garner enough support to be voted on. If this recent bill is passed, however, residents in the city will be able to have a say on the bridge’s new name by way of voting.

“This proposed legislation on how to handle the name is a way to honor the local people of Selma who cross the bridge every day, and it gives us time to seek the will of God, not just for the bridge, but for our collective healing,” Sanders-Fortier said.

Calls for the bridge to be renamed after Lewis have been floating around for a while. In 2020, Michael Starr Hopkins, a political strategist, launched a petition to have it renamed after the former Georgia Representative and iconic Civil Rights activist. The petition, which was started in June amid the protests and racial reckoning George Floyd’s death stoked across the country, received 99,000 of the 150,000 signatories required in just a couple of days, NBC News reported.

“Sen. Sanders-Fortier has changed the course of history,” Hopkins told the news outlet. “Her deep commitment to healing Selma and belief in truth and reconciliation is the kind of leadership that could be a model for cities around the country. On behalf of the John Lewis Bridge Project, we look forward to continuing to work with Sen. Fortier to ensure the bill’s passage — but more importantly, we are prepared to do whatever we can to support Selma’s vision and amplify the voices in the beloved community.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 20, 2021

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