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Alabama Senate Seeks to Rename Edmund Pettus Bridge

MONTGOMERY, Ala. ― Alabama senators are seeking to rename Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, a historic site in the voting rights movement that also bears the name of a Ku Klux Klan officer.

Senators on Wednesday approved a resolution to rename it the Journey to Freedom Bridge. The bridge became a symbol of the fight for voting rights after marchers were beaten by state troopers on the bridge on March 7, 1965.

The bridge that spans the Alabama River is Selma’s most notable landmark. It is named for Pettus, a two-term U.S. senator, a Confederate general and a KKK grand dragon. The KKK connection had faded from local memory until this year, when approaching the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” beatings, a Selma-based student group, Students UNITE, launched an online petition to rename the landmark bridge.

“There was a thought that every time you lift the name, you also lift the name of the KKK grand dragon,” said Selma Sen. Hank Sanders, who sponsored the resolution.

“That bridge became a symbol of the struggle for freedom,” Sanders said.

Sanders said several new potential names were kicked around, including “the Bloody Sunday Bridge.” He said “Journey to Freedom” is appropriate because it says we are still on the journey.

However, Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department, said he worried that changing the bridge’s name could threaten its status as a national historic landmark.

“I believe its status would be in jeopardy because it would be altering the appearance of the structure from its historical period,” he said.

The Alabama House of Representatives has not voted on the idea with just two more meeting days in the legislative session.

Sanders said lawmakers named the bridge for Pettus in the 1940s. He said he believes they can legally change the name by resolution.

An Alabama Department of Transportation spokesman said they are reviewing the resolution.

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