Following Rep. John Lewis’ Death, Support Grows Online for Renaming Selma’s Pettus Bridge After the Civil Rights Icon

In the wake of Rep. John Lewis‘ death on Friday at the age of 80, calls have risen for the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., to be renamed after the civil rights icon.

Lewis marched on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the Civil Rights Movement’s “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965, when around 150 Alabama State troopers attacked peaceful protesters as they attempted to the cross the bridge while marching to Montgomery to demand voting rights. Many protesters were badly beaten, including then 25-year-old Lewis, whose skull was fractured. Despite his injuries, Lewis, serving as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), testified about the attack during a federal hearing less than a week later.

“Bloody Sunday” proved to be a critical moment in the Civil Rights Movement that helped spur the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Lewis, who went onto represent Georgia’s 5th district in Congress, and other activists held annual commemorative marches across the bridge in the following decades, including on the 50th anniversary in 2015 during which former President Barack Obama delivered a speech on the march’s significance. Even though he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, Lewis still marched across the bridge this past March to mark “Bloody Sunday’s” 55th anniversary.

The bridge in Selma is named in honor of Edmund Pettus, a U.S. Senator from the turn of the 20th century who was a Confederate general in the Civil War and a Grand Dragon in Alabama’s Ku Klux Klan, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Now many online are calling for it to be renamed after the Democratic congressman, saying its current name represents all that Lewis stood against.

As of Saturday morning, a Change.org petition calling for the bridge to be renamed after Lewis has over 390,498 signatures.

“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,” the petition’s author Michael Starr Hopkins said in a statement on petition’s page. “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.”

“There’s a bridge [that] needs a new name,” former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara tweeted on Saturday with a photo of Lewis on the Pettus Bridge. Author Jill Filipovic also tweeted her support of renaming the bridge on Saturday.

In June, Hopkins founded the John Lewis Bridge Project, a campaign to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge about Lewis and remove other Confederate names from other public landmarks.

There’s a bridge needs a new name pic.twitter.com/RjwrzAAZrA

— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) July 18, 2020

“It would be fitting to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis the conscience of Congress,” NBC News correspondent Andrew Mitchell tweeted Saturday. “He once told me how the Kennedy brothers did not agree to the Oval Office meeting with Dr. King before the ‘63 March until afterward because they feared it would be violent.”

It would be fitting to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis the conscience of Congress. He once told me how the Kennedy brothers did not agree to the Oval Office meeting with Dr. King before the ‘63 March until afterward because they feared it would be violent.

— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) July 18, 2020

Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power also tweeted her support of renaming the bridge on Saturday and shared a link to The John Lewis Bridge Project.

The Lincoln Project, a political action committee formed by several prominent Republicans who don’t support President Donald Trump — including political strategic Steve Schmidt and attorney George Conway — also shared its support for renaming the bridge on Saturday.

Alabama, America is watching. Edmund Pettus was a traitor to the United States of America and the Grand Dragon of the KU Klux Klan. Rename the bridge.

— Steve Schmidt (@SteveSchmidtSES) July 18, 2020

On top of renaming the bridge, many also called for renewed attention on the reason Lewis was marching that fateful day in 1965: to demand voting rights.

How to honor John Lewis? Rename Edmund Pettus Bridge, sure. (Lee Highway, too.) But: restore the Voting Rights Act. Pass his proposals for automatic voter registration. Above all … VOTE.

— Michael Waldman (@mawaldman) July 18, 2020

“Fifty-five years ago, a few of our children attempted to march … across this bridge. We were beaten, we were tear-gassed. I thought I was going to die on this bridge. But somehow and some way, God almighty helped me here,” Lewis said in March during the 55th anniversary’s commemorative march, according to CNN. “We must go out and vote like we never, ever voted before.”

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Write to Madeleine Carlisle at madeleine.carlisle@time.com.

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