Last year, as many Americans paused to remember and acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma to Montgomery March and the sacrifices of those who first attempted it on Bloody Sunday, a new generation of activists was inspired to push the Alabama state government to change the bridge’s name.
The Civil Rights Movement had marred the Edmund Pettis Bridge with the blood of the valiant who dared greatly and sacrificed much in the face of institutional terror fifty years ago; just as history had marked their sacrifice on the consciousness of a nation and inspired a new generation.
The students launched an all-out effort in support of their intent to rename the bridge because its name is offensive. The bridge is named in honor and in memory of a previous Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.
The students’ grass roots movement was led by Students UNITE with the help of an on-line petition through www.change.org. The initiative caught fire and within short order the students had successfully gathered nearly 180,000 signatures.
Many believe it was their efforts that prompted an Alabama State Representative to introduce legislation to rename the bridge in the Alabama State Senate. Despite the reservation of some legislators, the bill to rename of the bridge actually passed the Alabama Senate.
According to reports, subsequent to its passage, Senate representatives decided rather than naming the bridge after one of the iconic civil rights leaders injured during the Bloody Sunday incident, they opted instead to re-name it the ‘Journey to Freedom’ bridge and passed the name recommendation as part of the legislation on to the state’s House of Representatives for its consideration.
With the successful Senate vote, the re-naming effort had cleared the first major hurtle along its journey toward change; however, the victory was short lived. When the measure reached the Alabama House of Representatives it was allowed to languish without a vote. When the legislative session closed it brought an end to the students’ effort.
Had the measure passed the State House it still had major obstacles to overcome. There was no guarantee the Alabama governor would sign it into law and even if the governor’s signature was secured, the Alabama Department of Transportation may still have found a way to impede the change.