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Rep. Terri Sewell Supports Renaming Edmund Pettus Bridge

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Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., poses on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. in this file photo. Rep. Sewell represents Alabama's 7th Congressional district, which includes Selma. (FILE)
The Birmingham Times

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell said Monday she is in favor of renaming the Edmund Pettus bridge in her hometown of Selma, Ala.

“There is no denying that Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge—the site where foot soldiers shed their blood in the name of equality and justice for all Americans—is a powerful symbol of the civil rights movement,” Sewell said in a statement. “While I believe the historical significance of the bridge transcends the man for which it was named, I also acknowledge that in this moment everything must be on the table, and that includes renaming the bridge.”

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition to rename the bridge after Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat and civil rights leader who participated in the 1965 march across the Selma bridge where he and other activists were attacked.

Sewell, who represents the district that includes the bridge, told AL.com she now supports renaming the bridge for Lewis, an Alabama native, a position she had publicly opposed in 2015.

“There’s a righteous irony there, sweet justice, that a bridge named after a man who inflamed hatred, racial hatred is now known worldwide as a symbol of equality and justice,” Sewell told AL.com. “What was meant for evil, God used it for good. I truly believed that I still believe that, but I also know this moment requires us to see things, do things through an anti-racist lens.

Noting the change in her position, Sewell said it’s a “different time and we all have to evolve.”

Sewell said she was also cognizant of the outrage that has spread nationwide in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, the African-American man killed by police in Minneapolis last month.

“In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests and outcry across the nation, there is no denying that this moment is different; our brothers and sisters – black and white – are crying out for bold change,” Sewell said.

“My primary focus is on extending the rights of the living and not on the transgressions of the dead. The voices on the streets of the nation cry out to be heard and they demand real change. Removing Confederate memorials and renaming buildings is not the change they seek, but it is an important step in the process towards racial healing. We must be willing to do the easy things so that we can focus on making transformational change.

This moment requires “removing any and all impediments to making the systemic changes our nation so desperately needs in policing, education, housing, economic policy and more,” Sewell said.

“We must confront and reject Alabama’s racist history and come together to implement the bold changes needed to ensure our nation finally lives up to its promise of equality and justice for all.”

The online petition to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) had more than 100,000 signatures as of Monday evening.

A spokesperson for Ivey was not immediately available for comment in response to the petition.

Lewis joined hundreds of marchers during the 1965 protest for voting rights. Marchers intended to go from Selma to Montgomery, but they were stopped on the other side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and met by police officers and vigilantes with sticks and billy clubs.

Lewis was nearly beaten to death in the attack which is known as “Bloody Sunday.” Shortly after the march, the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed.

The push to rename the bridge comes as activists across the country are calling for statues and memorials commemorating Confederate figures to be taken down as nationwide protests continue over racial inequality and police brutality.