Following the death of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the calls to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge where he was brutally beaten while fighting for the right of Black Americans to vote have intensified once more.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (R-SC) spoke out, putting forth the call to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which is currently named for a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and a confederate general, to be renamed after his longtime friend and colleague.
“I think you ought to take a nice picture of that bridge with Pettus’s 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,” Clyburn told NBC’s Meet the Press in an interview airing on Sunday. “I believe that will give the people of Selma something to rally around. I believe that will make a statement for people in this country that do — we do believe in that pledge, that vision of the country that’s in the last phrase of the pledge: ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ Edmund Pettus was a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. 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.”
This is not the first time that the name of the bridge has been called into question, but Lewis’ death has certainly reignited the calls. On March 7, 1965, when he was just 25, the congressman had his skull fractured by white police officers while leading 600 peaceful protesters from Selma to Montgomery in the March for voting rights.
The violence that protesters met on the bridge was widely publicized, and months later, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson would sign the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Clyburn’s calls only echoed that of others who took to social media – from journalists to attorneys, to activists, and civilians alike – to make their opinions be heard in light of the iconic congressman’s passing.
A petition on Change.org has gained over 444,900 signatures as of 10:44 p.m. Saturday night to rename the bridge.
“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,” Michael Starr Hopkins, the founder of the John Lewis Bridge Project said in a statement on the petition. “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.”