There’s growing momentum behind efforts to rename the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The bridge was the site of Bloody Sunday, the day Alabama State Troopers brutally beat civil rights marchers during a protest for voting rights in 1965. Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins started the petition to rename the bridge. In just a week he’s gathered more than 120,000 signatures. Hopkins said the bridge, named after a former Confederate general, should be renamed for Alabama native and Georgia Congressman John Lewis.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why should the bridge be renamed for U.S. Rep. John Lewis?
“John Lewis has been a civil rights pioneer, he was almost killed on that bridge. And it is because of him and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Southern Leadership Conference, as well as Alabamians who are from places like Montgomery and Selma, who have really changed the course of our nation’s history. And so I think it’s only fitting that John Lewis replace the name of a former KKK member, a former Confederate general, someone who is undeserving and unbecoming of having his name on a bridge.”
Who was Edmund Pettus?
“Edmund Pettus was a member of the Confederate Army. He was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, an avowed racist who was beaten by an African-American. So I think it would be great for Edmund Pettus to be replaced by a Black man.”
Is Gov. Kay Ivey on board?
“I have sent a note to the governor. I have not heard back. And I have called on not just the governor, but the state legislature in Alabama to take this up, because I think it’s going to be a group effort. This isn’t something that I think any one person is going to be able to accomplish. And I think it will mean something to see not just African-Americans, but white Americans, Americans who are not just Democrats, but Republicans. I think everyone should come together on this and be in agreement because this isn’t a controversial thing. I mean, John Lewis is a national hero. Anyone who has something bad to say about John Lewis, that says more about them than it does about John Lewis. So, I think this is one of the few things that we can unify around and get done.”
What is this petition really about?
“This is about feeling heard. I think most African-Americans would be in agreement that we have always been outspoken about our country’s troubled history, the racism, whether it be in-your-face racism or systemic racism, which at times can be even more insidious. And so I am happy to see the country finally listening. I’m happy to see our cries not falling on deaf ears, but this is an opportunity. We now have an opportunity to not just take down the names of people who aren’t becoming of those honors, but we have the chance to really reform what the next generation is going to look like and what the next generation is going to do in terms of social justice. And so I think this is an opportunity to really provide that spark.”
This is the petition that I just mentioned on MSNBC w/ @AlexWitt. Let’s take the name of a KKK grand wizard off the bridge and put a hero’s name up instead.
Petition · Governor of Alabama : Rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge after Rep John Lewis https://t.co/k8Uc7cvx3I
— MichaelStarr Hopkins (@Theonlyhonest) June 13, 2020
“At the end of the week, I plan to take all the signatures and put it together and send it to the governor and send it to Congresswoman Sewell with a note requesting that we have an open dialogue about removing Edmund Pettus’s name, and replace it. This is the will of the people, the people are speaking. We’re seeing it in protests all over the country but we’re also seeing it in things like these petitions where civic action is really making a difference and making people think about what priorities we have.”
What’s the process of renaming a bridge?
“It’s going to have to happen in concert with the governor, with the state legislators, and the federal government may have to play some role in that as well given that it’s a historical landmark. And so there may be some consultation that has to take place with the park services but no matter what policy barriers are in place right now, this can get done.”
Here’s more on what it would take to rename the bridge.