Death of John Lewis Fuels Movement to Rename Edmund Pettus Bridge

“The name Edmund Pettus no longer is about Edmund Pettus from the Civil War, from the Confederacy,” said Collins Pettaway III, a political communications specialist and a Selma native. “The Edmund Pettus Bridge is now a staple and symbol of civil rights and voting equity, as well as voting rights. It’s a symbol of hope, of freedom. And that’s been a name that has passed through generations.”

Alan Reese, a grandson of the Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Reese, a civil rights activist, said many Selma residents, including foot soldiers from the movement who are still living, would not consider a name change unless it were inclusive. Dr. Reese, who died in 2018, was a member of the Dallas County Voters League, one of the local groups that organized the 1965 voting rights marches in Selma.

“All the things my grandfather did — was born in Selma, raised in Selma, worked in Selma — I don’t feel like his name should go on the bridge, because I understand it was a collective of people to make that situation happen,” said Mr. Reese, the chief executive of a foundation bearing his grandfather’s name.

The bridge, which crosses the Alabama River, was dedicated in 1940 and named for Pettus, a lawyer and United States senator who was also a decorated Confederate general and a leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. In 2015, a resolution to rename the bridge was defeated in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Representative Terri Sewell, Democrat of Alabama, said in a statement that although she understood the desire to honor Mr. Lewis’s legacy, a decision to rename the bridge should be made locally in Selma.

“As a daughter of Selma, I understand the complexities surrounding the renaming of the bridge, and while I personally can think of no better name than that of John Lewis, I ultimately believe the Selma community should decide who it is named after,” Ms. Sewell said.

In a statement in which he addressed the loss of Mr. Lewis, his longtime friend and colleague, Representative James Clyburn called for the bridge to be named after Mr. Lewis.