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The John Lewis Bridge Project

History of the Edmund Pettus Bridge

Constructed in 1940, the Edmund Pettus Bridge crosses the Alabama River near the town of Selma (Slate). Named after U.S. Senator and KKK Grand Dragon Edmund Pettus, the bridge replaced a previously existing two lane mule bridge that accommodated the traffic of U.S. Route 80, also known as the Dixie Overland Highway (Slate, U.S. DOT). Henson Stephenson of Selma designed the bridge (Slate). The bridge inclines from either direction towards its center to accommodate river boat traffic — meaning that a pedestrian approaching the bridge from either side is unable to see across (Slate). On March 7, 1965 a group of marchers led by John Lewis, leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s local head Hosea Williams attempted to cross the bridge en route to a demonstration in Montgomery, the state capitol (Slate). Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark and Selma Mayor Joseph Smitherman, backed up by Gov. George Wallace (D-Ala.) and a contingent of Alabama State troopers led by Maj. John Cloud, ordered law enforcement to attack the marchers at the bridge (N.Y. Review of Books). This violent response gave that date the infamous title of “Bloody Sunday” (CNN). The event galvanized media attention and put in stark light the brutality of segregation and prompted a statement from President Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Tex.) condemning the violence and seeking to de-escalate tensions (CNN). On March 21, led this time by SCLC President Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., completed the journey to Montgomery, crossing the bridge where only two weeks earlier police had beaten marchers without provocation (CNN). Anniversary events marking 40 years and a half century since the original March 1965 Selma to Montgomery march have become important gatherings for civil rights leaders, activists, and Democratic politicians (NYTimes, The Washington Post). President Barack Obama (D-Ill.) delivered an address on the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday that remains among the most widely admired speeches of his presidency (The Atlantic).