John Lewis Carried Across Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge, Where He Marched On Bloody Sunday, During Memorial Procession
In 1965, Lewis was beaten while advocating for Black voting rights in Selma, Alabama.
July 27, 2020 at 2:49 pm
Fifty-five years ago, John Lewis almost lost his life on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. On Sunday, his deceased body was carried across it in a stunning celebration of the life of the civil rights icon.
The body of the 80-year-old veteran congressman, who died on July 17, was taken back to the famous site one more time during Sunday's memorial procession. According to NBC News, crowds gathered next to the bridge and watched as his body was carried away.
"His final march, that final crossing, so different than the first, speaks to the legacy that he leaves behind and the lives that he changed," Rep. Terri Sewell said. "It’s poetic justice that this time, Alabama state troopers will see John to his safety."
While the crowd stood on the sidewalk and sang for the congressman, Lewis' son, brothers and sister followed the horse-drawn caisson.
“Our nation is better off because of John Robert Lewis. My life is better, Selma is better, this nation and this world is better because of John Robert Lewis,” Sewell said during a ceremony at the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
According to CNN, Lewis’ body was carried along the same route as the 1965 march, traveling across Highway 80 and through the streets of Montgomery. As the flag-draped casket traveled across the bridge, which was covered with rose petals, the driver of the wagon stopped briefly and removed his hat as a sign of respect. The casket was then taken to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.
Lewis was one of the dozens of Black protesters who were brutally beaten by state troopers while marching across the bridge to demand the right to vote in 1965. The Alabama native suffered a fractured skull while demonstrating with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and hundreds of other Black citizens, as Blavity previously reported. The day became known as Bloody Sunday. In the years following that historic moment, Lewis was a lifelong advocate for Black rights.
Lewis was the youngest leader of the 1963 March on Washington and served in various other capacities during the civil rights era, including leading the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In addition, he was one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961, according to NBC.
The social justice champion worked on the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and joined the Voter Education Project two years later. After failing in his bid to earn a U.S. House seat in Georgia in 1977, Lewis succeeded in 1986 and remained a member of the U.S. House of Representatives until his passing.
The civil rights champion, who was arrested at least 45 times during his lifetime, was most recently detained at an immigration rally in 2013. Lewis described his advocacy as creating "good trouble."
Although the congressman's supporters have asked for the Edmund Pettus Bridge to be named after Lewis, Selma officials are against the request, the Associated Press reported.
Attorney Michael Starr Hopkins, who created a petition in support of renaming, said he recently learned that Edmund Pettus was a member of the KKK.
“I realized I had no idea who Edmund Pettus was,” Hopkins told the Washington Post.
But after doing some research, the attorney said he found out that Pettus was a senator for Alabama, a Confederate Army officer and a grand dragon in the KKK.
Rep. Jim Clyburn is one advocate who wants Pettus' name removed from the bridge.
"Take his name off that bridge and replace it with a good man — John Lewis, the personification of the goodness of America — rather than honor someone who disrespected individual freedoms," Clyburn told NBC.