The death of US Rep.
John Lewis on Friday has renewed calls to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to honor the civil rights legend.
The call to rename the bridge in Selma comes amid a national conversation around monuments, names, and symbols that celebrate the Confederacy and their place in America today. The bridge’s namesake, Edmund Pettus, was a Confederate general and leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama.
Lewis helped lead the 1965 march for voting rights on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma at age 25, where he and other marchers were met by heavily armed state and local police who brutally beat them with clubs, fracturing Lewis’ skull.
That day became known as “Bloody Sunday” and startled Americans’ support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
On June 17, Michael Starr Hopkins, 33, launched a petition for the name change in hopes the bridge would be renamed while Lewis was still alive. The petition on Change.org had more than 490,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
“If it was left to Edmund Pettus, people who look like me would still be in shackles,” Hopkins told in a CNN report. “The idea that we would honor him by allowing his name on the bridge is antithetical for everything this country stands for, especially when we have so many heroes like John Lewis who dedicated their entire lives to bringing the country together.”
Hopkins was inspired to launch the petition after attending several Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, DC, where he lives.
After coming home from one BLM protest, “emotionally drained from watching [his] city burn,” Hopkins decided to watch the film “Selma,” where he discovered who Pettus was during a scene depicting the 1965 march.
After learning more about the history of Edmund Pettus, Hopkins said he was horrified and immediately started a petition calling for the renaming of the bridge.
By the end of the month, Hopkins founded the “John Lewis Bridge Project,” a non-profit organization petitioning for the name change.
“This country needs to reflect on who we are. The bridge is a symbol, but this is about more than just the bridge. It’s about rebuilding Selma, a primarily African American community that has been forgotten,” Hopkins said.
“It’s about making sure kids have access to education, parents have access to better jobs, it’s about improving people’s lives. That was the purpose of the march in 1965, and that’s the purpose of the John Lewis Bridge Project.”