WHAT’S IN A NAME: DEBATE SURROUNDS FATE OF EDMUND PETTUS BRIDGE

Edmund Pettus Bridge

As Confederate monuments are toppling across the country, people in Alabama are fighting to rename a very significant bridge.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge was the site of the iconic Bloody Sunday march in 1965. Black Americans congregated there to march toward the capitol in Montgomery, protesting for their right to vote.

Protesters were met with police officers who brutally assaulted them and sprayed them with high-powered hoses.

People come from all around the country on the same weekend every year to recreate the march.

Although the bridge has become a symbol of the civil rights movement in the South, it still bears the name of a white supremacist and Confederate general, said former state Sen. Hank Sanders.

Sanders led an effort to rename the bridge five years ago but the state legislature did not support the change.

He hopes that shifting national attitudes will sway lawmakers to back the new bridge name.

“Now the times are different and people see that Confederate monuments are doing a disservice to all people,” Sanders said.

But there is still pushback, both from Selma residents as well as people who participated in the march.

Lynda Lowery was 14 when she marched across the bridge. She had to get 35 stitches because of injuries she sustained that day. Lowrey told New York Daily News that she is opposed to changing the name.

Her sister, Jo Ann Bland, is also against the change.

“What happened on that bridge changed the whole meaning of the Edmund Pettus Bridge…I bet he’s rolling in his grave every time we walk across that bridge,” Bland said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell opposed changing the name in 2015 because it might, “compromise the historical integrity of the voting rights movement,” a letter she co-authored said. Now, she supports a change.

Some residents worry that changing the name will not affect racist ways of thinking that still exist.

“I’m no fan of Confederate monuments or memorials. Doing the name changes without changing the mindsets is not doing us a whole lot of good,” Joseph Rembert said.

Some city leaders worry that changing the bridge’s name will hurt the city’s tourism industry.

“The bridge is a huge piece of the tourism industry here in the city of Selma, so it’s really important that we also consider the potential economic impact that changing the name could have,” said Lydia Chatmon, who is running for Selma city council president.

Still, the bridge is iconic for what it symbolizes, not just the name itself.

“I think it’s one of the most important bridges in the United States. If people feel really strongly about it, I think you should just rename it then,” said Atlanta educator and Selma visitor Ashley Blackwood.

And even if there were a consensus in favor of changing the name, there is still controversy about what the new name would be.

Some have suggested dedicating it to Congressman John Lewis, who marched in Bloody Sunday and dedicated his political career to civil rights.

Others say it should honor Jimmie Lee Jackson or Amelia Boynton, who were both prominent civil rights leaders.

Sen. Sanders would prefer to call it, “the Bridge to Freedom” because, “It is all inclusive. It leaves no one out.”

“I’m pushing for the name Bridge to Freedom, a name that every person who ever fought for voting rights can see themselves in it,” Sanders said.

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