Edmund Pettus Bridge

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Edmund Pettus Bridge
Edmund Pettus Bridge 03.jpg
The central span of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in April 2010.

32°24′20″N 87°01′07″W / 32.40556°N 87.01861°W / 32.40556; -87.01861Coordinates: 32°24′20″N 87°01′07″W / 32.40556°N 87.01861°W / 32.40556; -87.01861

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Location Selma, Alabama, U.S.
Built 1939
Governing body State
NRHP Reference # 13000281
Added to NRHP February 27, 2013[1]
Carries US-80
Crosses Alabama River
Design Through arch bridge
Total length 1,248.1 feet (380.4 m)
Width 42.3 feet (12.9 m)
Longest span 250 feet (76 m)
Number of spans 7
Piers in water 4
Clearance above 14.8 feet (4.5 m)
Construction begin 1939
Construction end 1940
Opened May 25, 1940
Daily traffic 17,720

The Edmund Pettus Bridge is a bridge that carries U.S. Route 80 across the Alabama River in Selma, Alabama. Built in 1940, it is named for Edmund Winston Pettus, a former Confederate brigadier general, Democratic Party U.S. Senator from Alabama and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. The bridge is a steel through arch bridge with a central span of 250 feet (76 m). There are nine large concrete arches supporting the bridge and roadway on the east side.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge was the site of the conflict of Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965, when armed policemen attacked peaceful civil rights demonstrators with billy clubs and tear gas[2] as they were attempting to march to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery.

The bridge was declared a National Historic Landmark on March 11, 2013.[3]


The bridge carries four lanes of US Route 80 over the Alabama River, from Selma on the west side, to points east. The bridge has a total of eleven spans. It has ten smaller concrete spans, while the main span in the center, over the river, is made of steel. Because Selma is built on a bluff over the river, the west side of the bridge is higher than the east side. The center of the bridge is 100 feet (30 m) over the river. In 2011, the bridge was listed as functionally obsolete, meaning that it doesn't meet current design standards for its current traffic load.[4]


The bridge is named after Edmund Winston Pettus, who was born in Limestone County, Alabama, to John Pettus and Alice Taylor Winston in 1821. He graduated from a public high school and attended Clinton College. He then went on to Tuscumbia, Alabama, to study law and was admitted into the state's bar association in 1842. In 1844 he was elected to serve in the seventh Judicial Circuit of Alabama as a solicitor. From 1847-1849 he served as a lieutenant with the Alabama Volunteers during the Mexican–American War. From 1854 he served as a judge in the seventh Judicial Circuit of Alabama, until resigning in 1858. After resigning as judge he went back to Selma, Alabama where he again practiced law. Following the outbreak of the American Civil War he served with the 20th Regiment Alabama Infantry, eventually attaining the rank of brigadier general in 1863 and being assigned a command in the Army of Tennessee. Following the war he resumed his law practice in Selma. At that time he also led the Alabaman Ku Klux Klan. He was residing in Selma when he was elected as a United States Senator from Alabama in 1897 and 1903. He died in 1907.[5] Edmund's brother John Pettus, was a Mississippi politician.

Because of Pettus's role in supporting slavery and racism, there is a movement to rename the bridge. With the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday in 2015, a group of college students and others organized a campaign to rename the bridge. Changing the name would require approval from the State of Alabama. Proponents of changing the name have not offered a specific name as an alternative. An earlier attempt to change the name in 2010 failed. Some Selma residents are opposed, believing that changing the name will do nothing to improve race relations in the country.[6][7]



An earlier bridge at the same construction was built in 1885. It was a two-lane wooden bridge designed to carry mule loads of cotton. A swing bridge, it had to be opened by hand.[6] The Edmund Pettus Bridge was designed by Selma native Henson Stephenson and opened to traffic in 1940.[4]

Alabaman policemen prepare to assault peaceful demonstrators at the Edmund Pettus Bridge during Bloody Sunday in 1965.

Civil rights flashpoint[edit]

In 1965 voting rights for Blacks were a contentious issue. In Selma, Alabama, voting rolls were 99% White and 1% Black.[8] The case of Jimmie Lee Jackson showed how Blacks were treated; as state troopers and other locals started a fight with some 400 Black demonstrators, Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot in the stomach, and he died eight days later. As word reached the people, including Martin Luther King, Jr., SCLCs Director of Direct Action James Bevel strategized a plan for a peaceful march on the state's capitol, which required crossing the bridge.[9] There were many acts just like this one that involved killings, and many more that involved economic and health problems.[10]

On March 7, 1965, armed policemen attacked peaceful civil rights demonstrators attempting to march to the state capital of Montgomery in an incident that became known as Bloody Sunday. Because of the design of the bridge, the protestors were unable to see the police officers on the east side of the bridge until after they had reached the top of the bridge in the center. The protestors first saw the police while at the center of the bridge, 100 feet above the Alabama River. Upon seeing this, protestor Hosea Williams asked his fellow protestor John Lewis if he knew how to swim. Despite the danger ahead, the protestors continued marching without stopping.[4] They were then attacked and beaten by police on the other side.

Televised images of the brutal attack presented Americans and international audiences with horrifying images of marchers left bloodied and severely injured, and roused support for the Selma Voting Rights Movement. Amelia Boynton, who had helped organize the march as well as marching in it, was beaten unconscious. A photograph of her lying on the road of the Edmund Pettus Bridge appeared on the front page of newspapers and news magazines around the world.[11] In all, 17 marchers were hospitalized and 50 treated for lesser injuries; the day soon became known as "Bloody Sunday" within the black community.[12]

March on Montgomery – The Untold Story - From the Congressional Record of the U.S House of Representativies – March 30, 1965, pages 6333-6334 The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under previous order of the House, the gentleman from Alabama (Mr. Dickenson) is recognized for one hour.

   Mr. Dickenson: Mr. Speaker, last week Alabama witnessed the climax to weeks of civil rights activities in my State. It was a week which brought literally thousands of men and women of many races, colors, and creeds to participate in what has been widely considered as a kind of holy crusade for human rights. During this period there were scores of confrontations between demonstrators and law enforcement agencies—resulting in many arrests. There was discord, there was violence, there was death, all of which we deplore. From all of this a completely distorted picture of the State of Alabama has been painted. It is a picture of a place peopled by vicious, racist bigots whose only joy is found in the suppression of the Negro race: in the denial of the Negro’s right to vote and to participate as a first-class citizen of his State and the Nation; a place where the Negro’s search for simple human dignity must go forever unrewarded; a place where the Negro must live out his days in constant terror of police brutality and bomb that explode in the night.
   Mr. Speaker, this is an image of Alabama widely accepted as accurate by many people in this nation and the rest of the world today. It is, however, an image which has been deliberately, knowingly, and purposefully contrived. I have pointed this out before on this floor. It is, in short, but a part of an effort to divide and to conquer this Nation—and if this effort goes unchallenged, it may well accomplish its purpose.
   There is a story here, however, that has been untold and, for the most part, is unknown. While I have but one small voice and what I say here may go unheeded, I would be remiss in my duties if I did not speak the facts for all of America to know—and the facts which I am about to relate are true and I can substantiate every fact. Mr. Speaker, if you think these facts are vile and obscene and are unpleasant to hear, I agree. But think what it is like to have witnessed them and had them occur in your community.
   First and foremost there was not one big group of moralists and Negro sympathizers that invaded Selma and marched to Montgomery. There were four distinct and usually identifiable groups intermingled and participating in a common effort but each for its own motives.
   This has been characterized by some and depicted as a type of holy crusade. Let me read you a circular actually handed out to the marchers by some of those participating in the march:
       Welcome Freedom marchers to Hollywood Burlesque (Produced by Paul Moscowitz and Peggy Anne) Girls—Girls—Girls—Girls—Girls Entertainment and 
       refreshments furnished free to all freedom marchers by the Hollywood 10 Committee in cooperation with the Coed Committee To End Bigotry and 
       Censorship. (Note to ministers: We appreciate the cooperation given this spectacular, modern adventure in person-to-person entertainment by
       some of you who have cast off the chains of the past. Several of you, including perhaps the leader himself, are trying to make you look too
       pious and too old-fashioned. Please prevail upon the holdbacks to let the show go on in all of its unrestricted glory, fun, frolic and warmth.)
       Tent 9 Nightly-Tent 9 will be picked each evening ahead of the march, and the gala burlesque review will begin when the crowd arrives. Let
       every good man arrive. (Note to southern girls: Come join in the fun if you can cast off the old-fashioned ideas, whether of racist bigotry 
       or medieval moronic morality. Hollywood’s greatest tradition beckons you. Come, meet Paul and the boys.) 
  Is this circular out of character with the rest of the march? Look at the participants.
   One group was the Alabama Negro who participated to help secure rights and privileges which he felt had been withdrawn from him illegally. And there are many instances where this has been so—especially so in Alabama, however – only in isolated areas and none of these areas recently.
   A second group are the do-gooders – those from outside our State who have no personal interest or involvement but who, out of compassion for those whom they are convinced need help and, although misinformed and misguided as to both the full facts and how those whom they seek to help can best be helped, come and participate in the marches, demonstrations, and even serious civil disturbances. This group, for the most part are serious, sincere, educated people such as the clergy, nuns, teachers, and other professional people. While their purpose may be noble, to a large extent they defeat their own aims because they worsen the condition they seek to improve. Let me hasten to add, however, that not all men who profess to be men of God and who don the clerical garb participate for altruistic reasons. Many are of the type Jesus had in mind when he said:
   And when thou prayest, thou shall not be as the hypocrites are: For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to the Father which is in secret, and they Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. 
   We of our State do not condemn the first group. Perhaps we would react similarly in like circumstances. We can recognize the good intentions of the second group even though we know their method is wrong.
   These two groups, however, make up only a small part of the total effort. Both of these groups are in fact being victimized and used as unknowing tools of the other two groups involved. In the final analysis the Alabama Negro will not achieve what he seeks by the means he now employs, nor will the do-gooders have helped him permanently.
   The third group, also a tool being used by the fourth group, are human flotsam: adventurers, beatniks, prostitutes, and similar rabble. They flock to the standard of civil rights because this clothes them with a morality and a purpose which they otherwise lack. The fact is that they are recruited to be fulltime demonstrators. They are promised $10 per day, free room and board and all the sex they want from opposite members of either race. Free love among this group is not only condoned; it is encouraged. It is a fact and their way of life. Only by the ultimate sex act with one of another color can they demonstrate they have no prejudice.
   Do I exaggerate? The pamphlet I have read at the beginning of my talk was distributed among the marchers from Selma to Montgomery. Drunkenness and sex orgies were the order of the day in Selma, on the road to Montgomery, and in Montgomery. There were many – not just a few-instances of sexual intercourse in public between Negro and white. News reporters saw this—law enforcement officials saw this, and Mr. Speaker, photographs were taken of this, I am told. I have not seen the actual photographs, but they are being processed and complied.
   Negro and white freedom marchers invaded a Negro church in Montgomery and engaged in an all-night session of debauchery within the church itself. The leadership of the church had to get help to have these freedom marchers put out of their church and even had to have the telephone disconnected because of the long-distance calls. Urinating in the street was not uncommon during demonstrations and more than one of these freedom marchers was arrested for indecent exposure in a public place.
   Has anyone stopped to ask what sort of people can leave home, family, and job-if they have one-and live indefinitely in a foreign place demonstrating? This is no religious group of sympathizers trying to help the Negro out of a sense of right and morality- this is a bunch of godless riffraff out for kicks and self-gratification that have left every campsite between Selma and Montgomery littered with whisky bottles, beer cans and used contraceptives. I am prepared to prove these facts.
   If you wonder why the Reverend Norman C. Turesdell, of Dubuque, Iowa, Rabbi Richard Rubenstein, chaplain of the University of Pittsburg, and many other ministers and religious leaders left the so-called freedom march in disgust, this is the reason.
   Who then, is the one or group that puts these groups together—that gives its cohesiveness, strength, money, and direction? Who or what can weld this diverse group together into a formidable force that can-and has-overcome? The answer is this: The Communist Party.
   There are those that make a living out of seeing a Communist behind every bush or tree-or some Communist conspiracy or plot in every action of the State Department or foreign diplomacy. Let me assure you that such is not the case with me. I have not wanted to believe it – but I have been convinced. There are some in Congress that do not want to believe it-and will not listen to the facts.
   A few weeks ago a group of 14 Members from this house made themselves a committee to go to Selma to look into the situation there. In the course of the testimony that was given there, Judge Bernard Reynolds, probate judge of Dallas County, started mentioning the fact that there were Communist influences at work in the streets of Selma. He was interrupted by one of the visiting gentlemen with the remark:
       We don’t care anything about that. Let’s leave the Communists out of this. 
   I was later impressed with the evident truth of this statement when a vote of the Congress was taken to give or deny an appropriation to the House Un-American Activities Committee-the very committee of this body whose job it is to find out about communism in the U.S.A.
   I am sure there are others here and elsewhere that “don’t want to hear about Communists.” But the facts are here for anyone that has the eyes to see. The Communist Party and the Communist apparatus is the undergirding structure for all of the racial troubles in Alabama for the past 3 months.
   Look at the speakers on the platform in front of the capitol in Montgomery or participating prominently in the march (sic) and demonstrations.
   First, Carl Braden: A well-known Communist who has been active in civil rights activities for several years. Carl Braden has been active in so-called civil rights efforts for several years in the South. He was once convicted for conspiring with Negroes in Kentucky to bomb other Negroes’ houses.
   Second, Abner Berry: One of the directors of the Communist Party in the United States was in and out of the Selma-Montgomery area-and was photographed, I am told. I have not seen the photograph.
   Third. James Peck: Field secretary for CORE. Mr. Peck and a group of demonstrators once tried to prevent the launching of our first nuclear submarine. Later, he was forcibly removed from a nuclear test area in the Pacific where he had sailed with another group of demonstrators in an attempt to halt our Government’s nuclear test program. Does anyone honestly believe that Mr. Peck is interested in Alabama Negroes’ civil rights?
   Fourth, Bayard Rustin: Rustin heads an organization known as the War Resisters League-which is the U.S. branch of an international organization known as War Resisters International. The purpose of this organization, in other words Mr. Bayard Rustin’s chief business, is to persuade and to aid young men to avoid compulsory military service to their country. As recently as 2 years ago, Bayard Rustin’s War Resisters League shared offices in New York City with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council (Note: Committee)-otherwise known as Snick. Snick was cosponsor, along with Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference of the Montgomery march. Bayard Rustin, by his own admission in the Saturday Evening Post, was a Communist Party organizer for 12 years.
   Fifth. And what about the king himself- King Martin Luther. The only man in America that can announce when he will see the President (Note: Lyndon B. Johnson)-and it becomes a fact. Martin Luther King himself has amassed the staggering total of more than 60 Communist-front affiliations since 1955. In spite of which Dr. King has been quoted as saying last summer in Greenwood, Mississippi, that “there are no more Communists in the Mississippi summer project than there are Eskimos in Florida.” With King at the time he made this statement was Bayard Rustin, who served as King’s executive secretary for 3 years. (Note: Intended as proof Dr. King was a liar.) King has also said that there are no Communists in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Hunter Pitts O’Dell, who took the fifth amendment (sic) before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and who was identified by witnesses as a Communist Party member, worked for more than a year with King’s SCLC movement. King repeatedly denied that O’Dell was connected with his organization until the facts were proven otherwise, then he admitted that O’Dell had been employed by the SCLC. When King promoted the demonstrations in Birmingham in the summer of 1963, police identified and photographed a number of known Communist and suspected Communist sympathizers in King’s supporting groups. His chief of staff at that time was Wyatt T. Walker. Mr. Walker is today editorial advisor to the Progressive Labor Movement, which has been described by Mr. J. Edgar Hoover as a Marxian Leninist group following the more violent Chinese Communist line. The fact is that Martin Luther King has been virtually surrounded by Communists or Communists-fronters (sic) since 1955. No man in America has received more praise or more space in such Communist newspapers as The Worker and People’s World as Martin Luther King.
   The logical question follows, Why would the Communists want to do that? What will they gain? The answer is that years ago a systematic plan was started by the Communists to divide the Deep South from the rest of the Nation by the very tactics they are now using. Divide and conquer. They are being eminently successful. The most disturbing thing about it is that the U.S. Government knows all these facts. That the FBI has a file on King Martin Luther and all the others I have mentioned. Yet the Government helped promote the occurrences in Alabama and even had an Under Secretary of State participate on the program with known Communists. Leroy Collins, Director, Community Relations Service, U.S. Department of Commerce, participated in the march. Government officials participate in such activities and the Justice Department assists in their promotion, all with knowledge of the President.
   Mr. Speaker, I implore this body to cast aside all prejudice by color-pro or con. Forget race and look at all the facts objectively. Recently the American public has been made colorblind to the point that black makes red white. America must substitute reason and fact for emotion. We must wake up before it is too late. It may be too late now.


Since 1965, many marches have commemorated the events of Bloody Sunday. On the 30th anniversary of that event, Rep. John Lewis, former president of SNCC and a prominent activist during the Selma to Montgomery marches, said, "It's gratifying to come back and see the changes that have occurred; to see the number of registered voters and the number of Black elected officials in the state of Alabama to be able to walk with other members of Congress that are African Americans."[13] Another notable day was the 40th reunion of Bloody Sunday, when over 10,000 people met to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge again. Among those 10,000 people was, again, Rep. John Lewis, who was one of the men attacked on Bloody Sunday.[14] Also, in 1996, the Olympic torch made its way across the bridge with its carrier, Andrew Young, and many public officials, to symbolize how far the South has come. When Young spoke at the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, as part of the torch ceremony, he said, "We couldn't have gone to Atlanta with the Olympic Games if we hadn't come through Selma a long time ago."[15]

In March 2015, on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama, the first African-American U.S. president, along with other U.S. political figures such as former U.S. President George W. Bush and Representative John Lewis, and Civil Rights Movement activists such as Amelia Boynton Robinson (at Obama's side in a wheelchair) led a march across the bridge. An estimated 40,000 people attended to commemorate the 1965 march, and to reflect on and speak about its impact on history and continuing efforts to address and improve U.S. civil rights.[16]

In popular culture[edit]



  • Marilyn Miller's non-fiction book, The Bridge at Selma (Turning Points in American History) (1989), "describes the far-reaching repercussions of the events of March 7, 1965 when 525 men, women, and children in Alabama attempted to march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery in order to register to vote."[17]


  1. ^ "Edmund Pettus Bridge". National Register of Historic Places Program. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/al4.htm
  3. ^ "AMERICA’S GREAT OUTDOORS: Secretary Salazar, Director Jarvis Designate 13 New National Historic Landmarks". US Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  4. ^ a b c O'Neill, Connor (March 6, 2015). "How the Design of a Selma Bridge Became a Metaphor for the Civil Rights Movement". Slate. Retrieved March 12, 2015. 
  5. ^ "PETTUS, Edmund Winston - Biographical Information". Bioguide.congress.gov. 1907-07-27. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  6. ^ a b Peeples, Melanie (March 5, 2015). "The Racist History Behind The Iconic Selma Bridge". All Things Considered. 
  7. ^ Desmond-Harris, Jenee (March 9, 2015). "Inside the fight to strip a KKK leader's name from Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge". Vox. Retrieved March 11, 2015. 
  8. ^ Friday, Mar. 19, 1965 (1965-03-19). "Nation: The Central Points". TIME. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  9. ^ Friday, Mar. 19, 1965 (1965-03-19). "Nation: The Central Points". TIME. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  10. ^ "We Shall Overcome - The Cost". Nps.gov. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  11. ^ Sheila Jackson Hardy; P. Stephen Hardy (August 11, 2008). Extraordinary People of the Civil Rights Movement. Paw Prints. p. 264. ISBN 978-1-4395-2357-5. Retrieved March 6, 2011. 
  12. ^ Reed, Roy (March 6, 1966). "'Bloody Sunday' Was Year Ago". The New York Times (New York, New York). p. 76. Retrieved March 9, 2015. 
  13. ^ Jet - Google Books. Books.google.com. 1995-03-27. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  14. ^ Jet - Google Books. Books.google.com. 2005-03-28. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  15. ^ Heath, Thomas (1996-07-01). "After Three Decades, Selma Sees the Light; Torch Crosses Bridge Between Peace, Violence". Pqasb.pqarchiver.com. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  16. ^ Baker, Peter; Fausset, Richard (March 7, 2015). "Obama, at Selma Memorial, Says, ‘We Know the March Is Not Yet Over’". The New York Times (March 7, 2015). Retrieved 10 March 2015. 
  17. ^ Miller, Marilyn (June 1, 1989). The Bridge at Selma. Silver Burdett Press. ISBN 9780382068263. 

External links[edit]