As the nation is in the midst of what many consider to be a new wave of the Civil Rights Movement, activists are pushing for the name of a Ku Klux Klan leader to be removed from the Selma bridge that served as the stage for one of the most memorable marches in American history.
Discussions of racism have been at the focal point of the media’s attention following the string of deaths of unarmed Black citizens, many of whom were killed by police officers.
With the Oscars snub of the Ava DuVernay directed film Selma, the iconic march that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act has been a key part of discussions that recall the history of the Civil Rights Movement and contemplate how much further the Black community still has to go.
Civil rights activists believe now is the time to rename that bridge so it no longer dons the name of Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general and Grand Dragon of Alabama’s Ku Klux Klan chapter.
A student group called UNITE launched a virtual petition on Change.org in order to garner support for their cause.
The petition is less than 5,000 signatures away from its 150,000 signature goal.
The official page for the petition explains that the juxtaposition between the bridge’s name, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the actual events that took place on the bridge can’t be ignored any longer.
“The bridge was the site of ‘Bloody Sunday.’ On March 7, 1965, hundreds of nonviolent protesters attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery for their right to vote,” the Change.org page for the petition reads. “But as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met by Alabama state troopers and deputized civilians who were armed with billy clubs, tear gas, and cattle prods and attacked the marchers and drove them back to Brown Chapel Church. How could a landmark that holds so much significance for the civil rights movement be named after a man who not only supported slavery, but held one of the highest positions within the Ku Klux Klan?”
Students UNITE leaders made it clear that they have no intention of erasing history, but also believe that the bridge’s title is celebrating America’s racist past instead of commending the peaceful protesters who gathered together in the name of equality.
“There is something wrong with the idea that hundreds of African Americans, ones who have grown up in Selma and went to Selma’s segregated public schools, pass the name of a KKK leader every single day,” Students UNITE Executive Director John Gainey told Mic. “We have no desire to erase history, but there are some parts of our country’s past that should not be celebrated or honored.”
“Selma is currently 80% African American, with a black mayor and majority African American local city officials,” Students UNITE explained on the Change.org page. “The name Edmund Pettus is far from what the city of Selma should honor. Let’s change the image of the bridge from hatred and rename it to memorialize hope and progress.”
Gainey said that a few new names have already been proposed for the bridge including the “Freedom Bridge” or “Bridge to Hope.”
He added that he believes the people of Selma should ultimately have the final say on what the bridge’s new name will be.
“We are doing this for the people of Selma today,” Gainey said.