Remembering John Lewis, rights icon and `American hero'
WASHINGTON (AP) — People paid great heed to John Lewis for much of his life in the civil rights movement. But at the very beginning — when he was just a kid wanting to be a minister someday — his audience didn’t care much for what he had to say. A son of Alabama sharecroppers, the young Lewis first preached moral righteousness to his family’s chickens. His place in the vanguard of the 1960s campaign for Black equality had its roots in that hardscrabble Alabama farm and all those clucks.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Growing calls nationally to honor the late Rep. John Lewis by putting his name on the Alabama bridge where he and other voting rights demonstrators were beaten 55 years ago are being met with resistance in Selma, the majority Black city where “Bloody Sunday” occurred.
Some say renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the Georgia congressman who died Friday would dishonor local activists who spent years advocating for civil rights before Lewis arrived in town in the 1960s. Others fear tourism would be hurt if the Pettus name — which is known worldwide yet belonged to a white supremacist — were gone.
Support swells for renaming Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to honor John Lewis after his death
In the wake of Rep. John Lewis’s (D-Ga.) death, social media users are renewing a call to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., after the civil rights icon instead of the Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader. Lewis died on Friday at the age of 80, more than five decades after he almost lost his life while crossing the bridge during the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" march.Social media users took to Twitter to honor the longtime congressman, again calling for the bridge to be renamed in his memory."There's a bridge [that] needs a new name," former U.S.
Although about 480,000 people have signed one online petition to rename the bridge for Lewis and leaders including Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina and “Selma” movie director Ava DuVernay are advocating for the idea, state officials say any decision would have to be approved by Alabama's Republican-controlled Legislature.
Who was Edmund Pettus? Selma bridge got its name from Confederate general, KKK leader
It became an iconic site of in the battle for equality, but the Edmund Pettus Bridge is named after a former Confederate general and KKK leader.Lewis was one of the prominent activists who marched across the bridge March 7, 1965, in what later became known as Bloody Sunday. He suffered a fractured skull when Alabama state troopers beat marchers trying to cross the bridge to bring awareness to racial inequities in voting registration.
State lawmakers are unlikely to act without the backing of area leaders, and right now there's no sign of widespread support.
Rep. Prince Chestnut, whose state legislative district includes Selma, called Lewis “a great and noble man” but added that renaming the bridge for Lewis “is not appropriate.”
“There were many Selmians and Alabamians who were either on the bridge in March 1965, near the vicinity or precipitated the situation that changed this country for the better. John was not the only one,” Chestnut said in a statement to The Associated Press on Monday.
Mayor Darrio Melton called it “insulting” that the wishes of Selma residents haven't been taken more into account during discussions about the bridge name dating back at least five years. And focusing on a name rather than ways to solve racial and economic inequality disrespects Lewis' legacy, he said.
“Everybody is talking about changing the name of the bridge, but they’re not talking about investing in Selma,” Melton said. “To me it’s more about the system than it is the symbol.”
In Selma, tributes to Rep. John Lewis and calls to protect his voting rights legacy
Rep. John Lewis was honored in a church that became a landmark of the movement the civil rights hero was so deeply tied to.Once, when the family visited Rep. John Lewis in his congressional office, the congressman took the Pittmans' son down to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Michael Starr Hopkins, a Washington-based consultant who launched the fast-growing online petition, said he's beginning to contact Selma-area leaders. Starr said he didn't know how much money has been raised by a nonprofit he founded to support the renaming idea and likely wouldn't release a fundraising total if he did.
“We are in a moment. Are we going to fight each other or the system of oppression that has held Selma back?” Hopkins said.
Gov. Kay Ivey would work with lawmakers if a bill to rename the bridge reached her desk, and aide said, but that seems unlikely to happen. The Democratic leader in Alabama's Republican-controlled House, Rep. Anthony Daniels, said he'd follow Chestnut's lead on the issue since the bridge is in Chestnut's district.
The state senator representing Selma, Malika Sanders-Fortier, did not return emails seeking comment. She succeeded her father, former state Sen. Hank Sanders, who opposes renaming the bridge for Lewis and has publicly advocated calling it “The Bridge to Freedom.”
Sanders sponsored a resolution that would have allowed the bridge to be renamed in 2015 when he was still in the Senate, but the measure died in the House.
John Lewis, civil rights giant, to cross Selma bridge one final time
Lewis, who died earlier this month at the age of 80, will take his final trip across the Edmund Pettus Bridge alone. The 16-term lawmaker, often called the conscience of Congress, was a giant of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Lewis was only 25 when he believed Alabama troopers would kill him on the peaceful march for voting rights across the bridge on March 7, 1965, known today as “Bloody Sunday.”Lewis suffered a fractured skull and was one of dozens of nonviolent protesters who were hospitalized.
Dedicated in 1940 during the period of legalized segregation, the twin-arched bridge over the Alabama River was named for Pettus, who fought for the Confederacy and was a white supremacist and reputed Ku Klux Klan leader. At the time, Pettus was praised for his work after the Civil War to fight the emergence of Black political power.
A quarter-century after the bridge opened, Lewis led some 600 voting rights marchers across the span until they were attacked by Alabama state troopers, who beat Lewis and others in a violent spectacle that came to be called “Bloody Sunday.” Even more people subsequently made the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march.
Today, the hometown “foot soldiers” who marched with Lewis see the bridge as a symbol of freedom, and many relish the fact that the name of a one-time Confederate also is associated with civil rights for blacks. If anyone is honored anew, they say, it should be local activists.
“I just feel strongly that it should not be named ‘John Lewis Bridge,’” Lynda Lowery, who was among the marchers, told The Associated Press in an interview last month.
Chestnut said he hasn't spoken with a single local survivor of the attack who supports renaming the bridge for Lewis. It might be time to change the name of the bridge, Chestnut said, but he'd favor calling it something like “Bloody Sunday Bridge” or “Historic Selma Bridge” rather than naming it for Lewis.
A nation John Lewis helped unite salutes him on his final journey across Selma bridge
The late U.S. Rep. John Lewis made a final journey across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a flag-draped casket. Troopers saluted.The late John Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the final time Sunday in a triumphant celebration of his fight for civil rights, often in the face of violent resistance.
District Attorney Michael Jackson said the wishes of Selma residents matter most but the national dialogue over renaming the bridge for Lewis should be taken into account.
“The name of that bridge is bigger than Selma," he said.
Video: Lawmakers reflect on the life and legacy of civil rights icon John Lewis (CBS News)
An 'unbreakable' man: Former presidents hail civil rights icon John Lewis at funeral in Atlanta .
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