“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.