After Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, it is Poignant to know the History Behind the Name
By Breathtaking, chilling and awesome. Those are the top adjectives that come to mind as I describe my feeling after walking across the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., a few days ago.
While taking a group of students to the Tech Village and Youth Hackathon at Essence Festival in New Orleans, we stopped at the civil rights landmark on Sunday. This was one of several stops in seven cities across the South where we toured local cultural heritage landmarks, historical civil rights sites and historically black colleges on our 10-day field trip.
Sitting behind the bus driver, my heart skipped a beat as I saw the welcome sign upon entering the city limits of Selma. I was overcome with emotion. It was as if my spirit dropped.
All I kept thinking was: the day finally arrived when I would visit the disdain city – the city where more than 600 non-violent protesters were attacked by Alabama state troopers as they tried to march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights.
As I walked across the span, the thoughts from Director Ava DuVernay’s film Selma kept popping up in my mind. I pictured the racist Dallas County sheriff Jim Clark firing his pistol and ordering mounted deputies and state troopers to advance, I thought about the men and women coughing and the trampling hoofs on them as they tried to run in the cloud of tear gas.
I became angry – not at the perpetuators because they did not know any better. However, I was angry at those people of color today who fail to acknowledge the sacrifices, clubbing and beatings taken so that we can have the freedom we enjoy today.
In what seemed like a split of a second, we stopped traffic, moved quickly into the street for a photo shoot then went back on the sidewalk, two-a-breast. It appeared the motorists who had stopped understood. It felt so powerful.
There is a movement brewing across the state on whether they should rename the bridge the Journey to Freedom Bridge.
Until earlier this year when the world watched as approximately 40,000 crossed the bridge for the 50th anniversary of the Celebration of Bloody Sunday – the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march – many knew the name but few knew who Edmund Pettus was.
On Sunday, most of us learned he was a lawyer, a general in the Confederate army, a U. S. Senator and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan who used his positions to deny blacks from voting in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. His terrorist organization terrorized Catholics and Jews and also killed, maimed, and terrorized blacks for nearly a century.
After this experience, I think the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march should not be limited to an occasional article in the news but should be an integral part of the curriculum in our public schools. After all, the event played a pivotal role in shaping the America we live in today.