Selma March Bridge Named for White Supremacist

Everyone has seen the footage of the famous 1965 march in Selma, which took place at the Edmund Pettus bridge, a march that was reenacted and commemorated this weekend. What I didn’t know, and you probably didn’t either, was that this bridge was named after a white supremacist. Some people in Alabama are trying to change that.

This weekend, as President Obama and members of Congress travel to Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a new generation of activists is working to strip the name of Edmund Pettus — a former state legislator who doubled as a top KKK official — from the city’s most famous civil rights landmark.

Students Unite, an organization made mostly of college and graduate students focused on social justice issues in Selma, has collected more than 158,000 signatures on a Change.org petition calling on Alabama leaders to rename the bridge, where police viciously beat demonstrators marching for voting rights on March 7, 1965.

But because the bridge is both part of a federal highway and a National Historic landmark —not to mention a source of sentimentality for some in Alabama — erasing the avowed racist’s name from it won’t be as simple as some think…

It’s also right there on the Federal Highway Administration’s website in its description of the structure, which was built in 1940 and carries traffic across the Alabama River: “It had been named after a Civil War General and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan who served in the United States Senate from 1897 until his death in 1907. He was the last Confederate General to serve in the Senate.”

According to Gainey, there was an effort to remove Pettus’ name from the bridge five years ago, but it didn’t take. Now, he says, “there is enough momentum to actually get it done.”

That’s because, while the events of Bloody Sunday are commemorated every year, this year, the 50th anniversary, is different. With the release of Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated film, Selma, which depicted Martin Luther King’s marches from Montgomery to Selma, the city’s role in the civil rights movement has been in the national spotlight.

Gainey thinks the heightened attention to the city’s civil rights legacy as a result of the film — including the scene highlighting when marchers were beaten by police as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge — has inspired renewed interest in honoring the actions of the participants.

Because it’s a national historic landmark and a federal highway, Congress would probably have to get involved to change the name. I would suggest the Martin Luther King, Jr. Bridge. Or perhaps the Fuck You George Wallace Bridge.

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  • John Pieret

    I don’t know. Maybe it would be better to just instigate a nation-wide educational campaign to let everyone know just who Edmund Pettus was. You can’t change history. The important thing is to remember it, so we don’t have to repeat it.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Because it’s a national historic landmark and a federal highway, Congress would probably have to get involved to change the name.

    This Congress?

     

    John Pieret “The important thing is to remember it, so we don’t have to repeat it.”

    No, the important thing is to accuse black people of being the real racists, nursing a sense of resentment, and doing nothing, which is three things but really one thing.

  • Charles Ward

    Sitting here on my white ass. I agree, the name, the story of the person the bridge was named for, tells us more of what the marchers faced. On that day, before and since.

  • teawithbertrand

    Actually, I did know who Edmund Pettus was. With a bridge named after him in Alabama, I kind of presumed he was a Confederate and googled him one day. Sure enough…

    I was puzzled that no one seemed to mention the origin of the bridge name during this past weekend’s coverage. Maybe I missed it.

    And how about renaming it the John Robert Lewis Bridge?

  • Abby Normal

    There’s a joke about whitewashing history in here somewhere, I just know it.

  • abb3w

    While John Robert Lewis has been a great leader of the Civil Rights movement for decades, he’s currently a representative from Georgia, which seems less appropriate for an Alabama bridge.

    I’d suggest renaming it the “Bloody Sunday Bridge”.

  • JustaTech

    But if they did that, abb3w, then some people would think they named it after a U2 song, or the Irish Troubles.

    Which makes me wonder; are there more Bloody Sundays than other days of the week? I’m thinking it’s likely, given that most people don’t hold protest marches on Wednesday.

  • dingojack

    “Selma March Bridge Named White Supremacist”.

    Coming from his period of decline from the 60’s onward, this collaboration with Arthur Miller is not regarded as one of Tennessee Williams’ best plays…

    😉 Dingo

    ————

    If you can’t laugh at these idiots, you’d cry.

  • Paul Neubauer

    It may be just me, but it seems that the name “Bull Connor” is memorialized in infamy as a result of (that) Bloody Sunday, so why not continue to remember not only the “Edmund Pettus Bridge” but Edmund Pettus himself for their racist associations. Not everything that is worth remembering is worth remembering for being good. Some things are worth remembering precisely because of the badness they are associated with. I would not want to rename “Wounded Knee”, for example, because I think it’s valuable to remember and try not to repeat the events there. For the same reason, I want the “Edmund Pettus Bridge” to remain a symbol of the bad old days (even if we still have further to go).

    YMMV.

  • karmacat

    How about “Fuck that racist Edmund Pettus” bridge

  • dingojack

    Paul Neubauer – “Not everything that is worth remembering is worth remembering for being good. Some things are worth remembering precisely because of the badness they are associated with.”

    hear hear! Hence.

    Dingo

  • Abdul Alhazred

    The capital city of the United States of America is named for a white supremacist. Shall we change it?

  • D. C. Sessions

    I was puzzled that no one seemed to mention the origin of the bridge name during this past weekend’s coverage. Maybe I missed it.

    Lawyers, Guns, and Money

  • moarscienceplz

    What I didn’t know, and you probably didn’t either, was that this bridge was named after a white supremacist.

    I didn’t know it, but I assumed it. Houses built near forests tend to contain a lot of wood and houses built near quarries tend to contain a lot of stone.

  • lofgren

    I didn’t know it, but I assumed it.

    No shit. When I saw the title I thought, “In Alabama? It couldn’t be!”

    If you’re going to name things after people, some of the things are going to end up named after racists.

    Hell even if we named it for somebody who seems completely upstanding and bigotry free today, they’ll be renaming it in 50 years when standards have shifted again and [insert oppressed group that we think about almost never] becomes politically significant.

  • Childermass

    I would not want the name that bridge after any person who would want that bridge named after himself. Let the villain continue to be remembered as the name of a place of a massacre, one which his dead hand helped led the way.

    Besides this is a historic landmark (or at least it should be) and thus we should really avoid changes to the place beyond what is necessary.

  • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    From Modus Operandi’s #2:

    This Congress?

    For those of you not in the know, in comedy circles that would be labeled a “call back”.

  • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    @teawithbertrand:

    John Robert Lewis Bridge

    This is, in fact, one of the things that has stood in the way of renaming it. While MLK was everywhere for a while (and, to be fair, John Lewis was quite a number of places as well) JRL has made a point to return to this bridge year after year, and has talked about his experiences there not merely as an accomplishment, but as a source of ongoing inspiration for both his public service and his activism over the decades. [I haven’t met him, and I’ve only read an inconsequential fraction of what he’s written, but he spoke at the graduation of my then-partner and included a bit about his experience of the bridge and the ongoing effects.]

    There simply isn’t a better name for the bridge if we’re going to name it after an individual. (Though, I know, naming it the “Because They Openly Wore Badges Without Any Awareness of the Irony, Crackers Got Away Without Imprisonment for Their Riot Against Good People of Color Who Want Justice for All Bridge” would be even better.)

    And yet, for a landmark to be named after an individual, the federal law requires that the individual in question be dead.

    Thus the continued life and good work of JRL has delayed the renaming of the bridge. I actually talked to someone in congress (other than JRL) who specifically said they would rename it for JRL if they were in congress after his passing, but didn’t want to rename it before JRL’s passing b/c that would make re-renaming it for JRL harder later.

    I wonder if this effort to rename will run into the same problem.

  • briandavis

    What I didn’t know, and you probably didn’t either, was that this bridge was named after a white supremacist.

    Name something that existed in Alabama in 1965 that was not named after a white supremacist.