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Edmund Pettus Bridge

Photos 

Overview

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, perhaps, is the most famous (or infamous) bridge in Alabama history to this day. The bridge is the site of the historic civil rights conflicts known as the Selma to Montgomery Marches and "Bloody Sunday."

Photo taken by James McCray

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BH Photo #125729

Map 

Street View 

Video 

John Lewis' Final Ride Across the Edmund Pettus Bridge

July 26, 2020

CBS46 Atlanta

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Description 

This steel through arch bridge over the Alabama River in Selma would be notable, even if nothing particular had happened on it. The honeycomb pattern of its superstructure is distinctive, as are the open spandrel concrete approach spans. This bridge retains excellent historic integrity. The mainline of US 80 has been rerouted around Selma, leaving Business US 80 on the original alignment across the bridge.

On March 7, 1965 civil rights marchers including (later Congressman) John Lewis, en route on US 80 to the state capitol in Montgomery, were met brutally at the bridge, in what has become known as "Bloody Sunday".

The bridge has now been recognized as a National Historic Landmark, and Bloody Sunday is one of the more significant events in American history to happen on a bridge.

Facts 

Overview
Steel through arch bridge over Alabama River on Business US 80 in Selma
Location
Selma, Dallas County, Alabama
Status
Open to traffic
History
Built 1940; site of "Bloody Sunday" March 7, 1965
Builders
- Hensen K. Stevenson (Design)
- T.A. Loving Co. of Goldsboro, North Carolina (Contractor)
Design
Steel through arch, with open spandrel concrete deck arch approach spans
Dimensions
Length of largest span: 250.0 ft.
Total length: 1,248.1 ft.
Deck width: 42.3 ft.
Vertical clearance above deck: 15.3 ft.
Recognition
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on February 27, 2013
Approximate latitude, longitude
+32.40547, -87.01864   (decimal degrees)
32°24'20" N, 87°01'07" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
16/498247/3585380 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Selma
Average daily traffic (as of 2013)
13,920
Inventory numbers
AL 2273 (Alabama bridge number)
NRHP 13000281 (National Register of Historic Places reference number)
BH 10106 (Bridgehunter.com ID)
Inspection report (as of January 2017)
Overall condition: Fair
Superstructure condition rating: Fair (5 out of 9)
Substructure condition rating: Satisfactory (6 out of 9)
Deck condition rating: Fair (5 out of 9)
Sufficiency rating: 35.8 (out of 100)
View more at BridgeReports.com

Update Log 

  • July 26, 2020: Updated by Roger Deschner: Added description and video
  • July 22, 2020: Updated by Nathan Holth: Added Contractor
  • March 9, 2015: Updated by Nathan Holth: Added designer.
  • July 16, 2011: New photos from Ben Tate
  • October 12, 2008: New photos from James McCray

Sources 

Comments 

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted July 26, 2020, by Art S. (asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)

Good idea Roger!

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted July 26, 2020, by Art S. (asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)

Good idea Roger!

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted July 26, 2020, by Roger Deschner (rogerdeschner [at] gmail [dot] com)

As John Lewis is laid to rest, his horse-drawn caisson crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the last time today. Congressman Lewis had said he did not want the bridge to be renamed for him. He felt that would dilute the historic importance of the civil rights movement, and that it should keep the name Edmund Pettus. We should honor John Lewis' wishes.

Instead, I propose that the road crossing it be named for him. It is currently called simply Broad Street. The entire route of his march from Selma to Montgomery, on US 80, should be named the John Lewis Highway. His name would then be on signs at each intersections along his historic march for voting rights, not just one bridge.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted July 21, 2020, by Art S. (Asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)

Luke,

Wow, Godwin wasn't kidding... :^)

The videos were quite informative, the presenter is good, although a little arrogant (he probably has even more Prussian in him than I do :^) ). While I disagree with many of his interpretations and conclusions, his facts are correct. However, these lectures are created by the informed and presented to the interested. The facts presented can be found if researched. They are merely made less obvious now, only available to those who explicitly seek them. Thus enabling the memory of these things to fade away from the minds of the populace.

As you may be aware, those videos were created in Germany. I know this because the little swirls in the historic footage block certain symbols that remain illegal there. It kind of ties in to my point. The sanitation of past events desensitizes the population to its history more rapidly than time alone. I am concerned that removing Edmund Pettus' name will do the same thing. This is the reason why I am opposed to changing the bridge' name.

Although related to the statues argument, in the sense it was named for for similar reasons that erected the statues. To me, the significance of bridge's name has become very different than that of the statues. The bridge and specifically its name are a direct link to the heroic actions taken by the marchers many years ago. By removing/changing the name, an additional separation from history is added and those events fade just a bit more.

Please note, I am trying to set aside left or right politics from my point about sanitizing history. Obviously, its not easy to do in this time and on a topic as charged as this. I am in favor of honoring Mr. Lewis, just not by renaming this bridge.

Regards,

Art S.

PS. The Japanese case is more striking than the German one.

PPS. I cite your work on this site as evidence of the fading of history via natural benign neglect. With a few significant exceptions, a lot of knowledge of early bridges in America has faded away over the generations to the point where you are putting in a great effort to learn what was and what really is. Just look at the number of bridges, that are still standing, listed on this site where the name of the builder has been 'lost to time.' This phenomenon is bad enough on its own; I'd rather try to slow/reverse the process than speed it up.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted July 20, 2020, by Luke

Art, the memories of the atrocities of WW2 are hardly fading from the German mindset. In fact, with the rise of brazen public Neo Nazism here in the US (e.g. the Proud Boys being openly antagonistic in the PNW, the whole Charlottesville Debacle to name a few.) and Conservatives making up things about Hitler/Nazi Germany/etc. (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfHXJRqq-qo ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUFvG4RpwJI) Germans are teaching the rest of the world (Especially the US.) what they've clearly forgotten.

I can't speak for the Japanese aside from the fact that I know they don't acknowledged their massacre and raping of Nanjing.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted July 20, 2020, by Art S. (asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)

Justin,

I guess Godwin's law is real...

I had considered using an analogy with not removing "Arbeit macht frei" from certain gates but held off...

The point is the bridge was named and the statues were erected by those who Lewis was resisting. Whereas the statues are passive, and therefore have less significance, the bridge itself and in a big way its name were very symbolic to both sides.

The local people/government named this bridge after a grand dragon of the KKK! This in itself teaches what Lewis faced and what he was fighting for and against when he led the march across it. By whitewashing this history it's significance will be diminished. Just like the history of the causes and atrocities of WWII are fading from the collective memories of those in Germany and Japan.

I have no problem with renaming bridges and I agree that Mr. Lewis should be honored. However, I feel strongly that it would be a mistake to honor Mr. Lewis by changing the name of this bridge.

Sincerely,

Art S.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted July 19, 2020, by Justin

Removing Pettus' name diminishes the action of Lewis in the same way that removing Confederate statues actually erases history.

It doesn't.

And much in the same way we shouldn't have statues to Hitler, we shouldn't have statues/memorials/etc. to Literal Traitors to the Union, especially when some of those traitors (Lee) expressly said "I don't want no damn statues' (Paraphrasing, of course.)

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted July 19, 2020, by Art S. (asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)

George,

I don't know what was in Mr. Lewis's mind, but I strongly suspect that he chose to guide the march over this bridge specifically because of the name and symbolism associated with it.

I don't care about Mr. Pettus. However, to me, removing his name slightly reduces/dilutes the strength, courage and poignancy of Mr. Lewis' decisions and actions.

Regards,

Art S.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted July 19, 2020, by George A Oakley (Georgeoakley49 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Art,i read the history on Mr Pettus and see that besides being a confederate officer he also was pro slavery and a founding member of the KKK.Mr Lewis fought for equality and has more of a connection with this bridge.Therefore I see no problem in renaming this bridge after Mr Lewis.That is my opinion on this matter.Of course as you know we can't change the name of the bridge.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted July 19, 2020, by Art S. (asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)

While I'm in favor of honoring Lewis, I thing taking Pettus' name from the bridge would be a mistake. Doing so would remove some of the history in the strength of Lewis' message in crossing the bridge.

Art S.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted July 18, 2020, by Jason Smith (flensburg [dot] bridgehunter [dot] av [at] googlemail [dot] com)

Rep. John Lewis passes. The fight to rename a bridge in Alabama in his memory/honor is gaining support. Will Edmund Pettus be put aside in favor of Lewis, who fought for equality and voting rights among blacks and minorities? Read more on the bridge in Selma and Lewis' legacy: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/07/18/joh...

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted May 30, 2016, by Mark Hilton (cacher [at] mail [dot] com)

Two photos related to the bridge. One is plaque showing the bridge designer. The other historical marker photo notes what happened on 'Bloody Sunday'.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted March 10, 2015, by Al Bertram (abertram8297 [dot] com [at] hotmail [dot] com)

I read a story on the BBC news site a couple of days ago http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-31736316 where some group is circulating a petition to get the name of the bridge changed. However, the city leaders in Selma are not in favor of it and prefer to keep the name as it is so that present and future generations understand the significance of what happened there in 1965.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted March 9, 2015, by Nathan Holth (webmaster [at] historicbridges [dot] org)
Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted March 9, 2015, by Nathan Holth (webmaster [at] historicbridges [dot] org)

Boy I wish I had been able to visit this bridge during my SE USA last November. The hits to my website would have likely been huge with the nonstop television coverage... I see its the most-visited bridge on BridgeHunter yesterday.

Regarding the name, here is an interesting perspective. As a bridge that (although it has considerable engineering significance as a unique steel arch bridge) this bridge is undoubtedly most significant under NRHP Criterion A (Significant Events in History), specifically the Selma March. In 2013, the bridge was even raised to the highest and rarest historic designation available for a bridge, that of a National Historic Landmark. Regardless of what you think of the name, consider that this bridge has amazingly been nearly completely unaltered from its appearance during this significant event in history. Look at the historical imagery from the march. The bridge (for better or worse, with that name above) looks the same as it did during the march. If you were to change the name of the bridge (and thereby the name mounted on the bridge) that would break the museum-like preservation the bridge currently enjoys. Perhaps a better solution is to install interpretive signage beside the bridge that explains the irony of the name.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted March 8, 2015, by ArtS (asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)

Patrick,

I see where you are coming from but the fact that the name raised your ire to the level that you were willing to think about it and write about it speaks volumes. To me, changing the name removes that thorn and the teaching moment. It sweeps it under the rug. By leaving the name it ensures people will not forget.

Maybe I'm idealistic in that way but to me the fact that the first march was stopped at the bridge and the second 'broke through' has tremendous symbolism.

Its interesting that we are discussing opposite courses of action yet agree on the reason/basis.

Regards,

Art S.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted March 8, 2015, by Patrick Feller (nakrnsm [at] aol [dot] com)

Yours can be a compelling point, ArtS, and I've at times been tempted by it, but history, and progress, are about more than irony and poignancy, in a moment, every fifty years.

Days, weeks and months from now, when people ask about the Pettus bridge, they will be told who it was named after. The ironic moment, the poignant one, will be less remembered and the honor given a vile scoundrel who exerted effort all his life to keep people enslaved and then to keep them from ever exercising their rights will remain memorialized, in large letters, on that bridge.

In school districts throughout the south, children are being educated at schools named during Jim Crow after scoundrels like Pettus and Nathan Bedford Forrest who worked hard and proudly to keep those students' ancestors under thumb or boot.

Progress is also about relegating the scoundrels to the pages of history and honoring, memorializing, those who struggled, who were beaten, and who died for the rights of all of us.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted March 8, 2015, by ArtS (asuckkewer [at] knite [dot] com)

Patrick, there is a strong push to change the name. To me, the irony of the name combined with the bridge's significance to our history is important. In my opinion, changing the name strips a part of its history and reduces its poignancy.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Posted March 7, 2015, by Patrick Feller (nakrnsm [at] aol [dot] com)

Today's an important anniversary for this bridge, sadly still stuck with the name of a Klansman.