Bill would add ‘Foot Soldier’ to the name of Edmund Pettus Bridge to honor ‘Bloody Sunday’ protesters

Bridge signage wouldn't change, but the words “foot soldier” would get separate marking, including silhouette art of the civil rights protesters.

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A new bill may soon extend the name of the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

The Montgomery Advertiser is reporting that the bill, which was approved this week by the Alabama Senate, will add the words “foot soldier” to the site where civil rights protesters famously crossed from Selma into Montgomery, demonstrating for Blacks’ voting rights, in 1965.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, is seen during commemorations of the 57th anniversary of Selma’s “Bloody Sunday” early last month. (Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The bridge currently honors Edmund Pettus, who was a confederate general and, later, a U.S. senator. According to the report, the actual signage on the bridge wouldn’t change. Instead, the words “foot soldier” would be added, along with silhouette art of the historic protesters.

Sponsored by state Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier, a Democrat who represents Selma, the bill would also create the Tuskegee Airmen Freedom Fund, which would memorialize aspects of the state’s history, including women’s suffrage and the history of indigenous people.

“When we truly love each other, when we love all people,” she said in a past bill debate, “we can’t leave anybody out.”

Sanders-Fortier’s bill now proceeds to the House and will require committee approval before advancing to the floor for a vote in the next three days. It would then need the signature of Gov. Kay Ivey to become law.

The legislation has bipartisan support. Three Republicans opposed it, and one senator had specific concerns. Sen. Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa sponsored the 2017 Memorial Preservation Act. According to Allen, his bill is “a very solid program in place to monitor and protect history, regardless of what it is,” he said. “All history.”

The Memorial Preservation Act makes it legally impossible to alter or change schools, streets or monuments in Alabama that are at least 40 years old. Local governments that do will be fined $25,000.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge became a symbol of the civil rights movement when Montgomery Police officers attacked protesters on March 7, 1965, giving it the name “Bloody Sunday.” The event was a catalyst for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. When he died, Georgia Rep. John Lewis’ body was driven across the bridge before he was laid to rest. Lewis, a protest leader on Bloody Sunday, was a champion for voting rights.

Other institutions in Alabama are working to reconcile elements of the state’s racist history by honoring those who worked to dismantle those institutions. The University of Alabama renamed a building after Autherine Lucy Foster, the first Black person to attend the institution. However, her name was added alongside former Gov. Bibb Graves, a staunch segregationist and member of the Ku Klux Klan. The building is now called Lucy-Graves Hall.

Students at the institution argued that putting the names together was a mistake. Yet, as previously reported by theGrio, Foster released a statement of appreciation for the honor, writing, “I am so grateful to all who think that this naming opportunity has the potential to motivate and encourage others to embrace the importance of education and to have the courage to commit to things that seek to make a difference in the lives of others.”

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