The United States has tens of thousands of bridges but none quite like the one that spans the Alabama River outside a Black Belt crossroads called Selma. America’s agonizing struggle with the hatred engendered by our original sin has made the Edmund Pettus Bridge a sacred symbol – as revered in its own way as Little Round Top at Gettysburg or Bunker Hill outside Boston.
It was on that bridge named “in honor” of a Confederate general and a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan that the great John Lewis and hundreds of other civil rights protestors were attacked in 1965 by vicious dogs and club-wielding Alabama state troopers. Why were they beaten and bloodied? Because they wanted an end to the abhorrent racial caste system known as Jim Crow. They wanted less fortunate Americans to have the same economic and educational opportunities as other Americans – the causes to which John Lewis devoted his life.
He was so devoted to civil and voting rights, in fact, that he was arrested some 40 times in the 1960s. But his courage and sacrifice led directly to the enactment of momentous laws that brought this country at least a little closer to the aspirations of Bunker Hill and Little Round Top.
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up,” Lewis once said. “You have to say something. You have to do something.” He did both so brilliantly that he made America a better and kinder place.
Let’s keep his legacy alive by renaming that span across the Alabama River the John Lewis Bridge.