Time will come to change name of bridge

Published 6:34 pm Wednesday, June 10, 2015

It was shortly after 9 o’clock on Wednesday morning. I rushed down the legislative halls and entered the Alabama Senate Chamber just as the opportunity to introduce motions and resolutions was about to conclude. I introduced Senate Joint Resolution 103. I also handed a copy to the Senate Rules Committee Chairman. I had no idea how the resolution would be received.

Senate Joint Resolution 103 would rename the world-famous Edmund Pettus Bridge. The new name would be Journey To Freedom Bridge. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is widely known for the bloody beating of peaceful marchers on March 7, 1965.

About 600 were marching for the right to vote and to protest of the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson. The moment became known as Bloody Sunday.

This terrible moment helped move this United States government toward the enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which changed this country and influenced the world.

The bridge is now a worldwide symbol of freedom.

People know the name Edmund Pettus but not the person. Edmund Pettus was grand dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization that terrorized, hung, murdered, maimed and intimidated African Americans. In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, Edmund Pettus was part and parcel of destroying African Americans recently won right to vote.

I asked for unanimous consent to immediately consider the resolution. This means that if even one senator objects, the resolution will go to the rules committee. One senator approached the podium. I just knew that passage of the resolution was about to be derailed.

He asked questions and I answered. He was satisfied and so were others. The resolution passed the Alabama Senate on a unanimous voice vote and went to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The media immediately requested copies of the Senate Join Resolution 103. Multiple reporters questioned me. I was surprised by the intense interest. I answered every question, but I knew well that the resolution had to pass the House and be signed by the governor to become effective.

I immediately called Rep. Darrio Melton who represents Selma and Dallas County in the House. I wanted him to pass the resolution from the House of Representatives as soon as it arrived down there. Unfortunately, the House was not scheduled to commence its Wednesday session until 3 p.m. The resolution hung out there.

Everyone who spoke to me that day was positive about the proposed name change except one person. We discussed the change for some time. She did not move from her position. I did not move from mine.

That night I received a call from Rep. Melton. He said that he was encountering opposition. He mentioned Congresswoman Terri Sewell and Congressman John Lewis. I had not received a single call. Rep. Melton was very reluctant. I urged him to go forward with the resolution that would change the name from Edmund Pettus Bridge to Journey To Freedom Bridge.

The next day I contacted other members of the Alabama House of Representatives. I wanted their help with the resolution. They eventually got back to me. Apparently, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Congressman John Lewis and others had contacted the Speaker of the Alabama House to block the resolution.

They had never called the Alabama Legislature on any issue no matter how important.

Eventually, I determined that the resolution would not be allowed to come out of the House Rules Committee. Therefore, it could not be considered on the House floor. If it had been acted on when it first came over to the House, it may have passed right away.

I wanted the resolution adopted during this session so the name change could be completed by Aug. 6, the 50th Anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It would have been a special time to dedicate the new name.

Of course, that cannot happen now that the 2015 regular legislative session is over, and we are not expected to be back in session before that date.

All is not lost. By introducing the resolution and passing it through the Alabama Senate, we intensified the discussion that commenced months before the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma-to-Montgomery March.

I understand the reluctance to change the name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. When the issue first arose, I was ambivalent myself. The more I thought about it, the more the need became clear we must rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

What’s our next step? I already took one step. I drafted an op-ed piece entitled, “Why The Edmund Pettus Bridge Must Be Renamed.” We will continue educating and informing. One day the name will be changed. Sometimes the struggle is long, but it continues.

Timing is critical in so much of what we do. Some things that are generally perceived impossible become possible at the right time.

Some things that are clearly possible become impossible at the wrong time. I thought the time was right to change the name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The right time will come.