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Commentary: Renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the John R. Lewis Freedom Bridge

Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

Commentary: Renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the John R. Lewis  Freedom Bridge
July 29
12:18 2020

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

It is time to make a change in America. For too long we have delayed or postponed changes in our society.

Congressman John Lewis passed away on July 17; his legacy and contributions will live on forever. He was called the “conscious” of Congress. Quite fitting for a man who lived his life serving others with high ideals and steadfast integrity.

His life paralleled The Civil Rights Movement. He was one of the speakers who addressed the crowd at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. He said, “Where is the political party that will make it unnecessary to march on Washington?”

My wife and I had the privilege of meeting Congressman Lewis some years ago. To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, “He walked with kings and queens but never lost the common touch.”

John Robert Lewis served the people of Georgia for 17 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. While he had a state constituency, he also had a national following. He was an advocate for the have-nots and for the least of these.

Many of us remember Bloody Sunday. That was a defining moment in our nation’s history. John Lewis led peaceful protestors over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

On March 7, 1965, he and the other 600 marchers faced near death because of the brutal beatings at the hands of law enforcement officers. At the time of the Selma, Alabama march, John Lewis was the chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

What happened in Selma was the tipping point for Congress to pass The Voting Rights Act. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it on August 6, 1965.

John Lewis will be remembered for his lasting imprint on the history of this country. As he would call it, he was always getting into “good trouble.” The march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge was one of them.

Turning the pages of Alabama history brings attention to who Edmund Pettus was. He was a Confederate general who later became the head of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. His career was built on injustice and racism.

So, each time we walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, these feelings of injustice and inequality come up. Our memories go back to Bloody Sunday.

Will that be our only memory of the bridge? I believe the answer is no. The Edmund Pettus Bridge should be renamed The John R. Lewis Freedom Bridge.

Congressman Lewis spent his life at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. He never waivered in his quest for equal rights and equal opportunity. We as people both Black and white stand on the shoulders of men like John Lewis.

Naming it The John R. Lewis Freedom Bridge is the moral and right thing to do. It will bring appropriate honor to a man and his mission.

The John R. Lewis Freedom Bridge bill should be introduced at all levels of local, state and federal government. Lawmakers on both sides have the chance to champion this bill.

With the renaming, Alabama can remove some of the stain of its role in segregation and humiliation. Do not let past wrongs continue to be barriers. Right and light will always overcome wrong and darkness.

The state must unharden some of its hearts. Handcuffs worn by some of its citizens have long since been removed. However, the emotional and psychological pain is still present for many of their descendants.

Alabama as a state and as a part of the United States can lead the efforts to rename this bridge, The John R. Lewis Freedom Bridge.

You can, you must, and I believe you will.

James B. Ewers Jr. is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator and can be reached at ewers.jr56@nullyahoo.com.

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