*In a tribute fit for a hero, the body civil rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge one last time on Sunday in Selma, Alabama.
The event was part of what organizers described as “The Final Crossing,” part of a multiday celebration of the life of Lewis.
Lewis’ first encounter with the bridge came in March of 1965 when the 25-year-old freedom fighter and hundreds of other civil rights advocates planned to march from Selma to Montgomery to draw attention to the need for voting rights in the state, which was infamous for denying African Americans the right to vote.
“We’re marching today to dramatize to the nation, dramatize to the world, the hundreds and thousands of Negro citizens of Alabama that are denied the right to vote,” Lewis said. “We intend to march to Montgomery to present said grievance to Governor George C. Wallace.”
But as Lewis led the group across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he saw a line of white Alabama state troopers blocking their path. The commander’s orders were clear: Wallace had proclaimed the march illegal.
“You’re ordered to disperse,” said Maj. John Cloud of the Alabama Department of Public Safety. “Go home or go to your church. This march will not continue.”
Lewis and his group did not disperse.
“Troopers, here, advance toward the group,” Cloud said.
The line of troopers walked forward, billy clubs out. They knocked Lewis to the ground and struck him on his head. He tried to get up; they hit him again with the billy club. His skull was fractured.
“I thought I was going to die,” Lewis told NPR in 2010. “I thought I saw death.”
Calls have grown to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge after Lewis, to honor the man who was arguably a lion in the fight for equality. A petition began in June by political strategist Michael Starr Hopkins, who told NBC News at the time that the idea came to him while watching Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” following days of protesting.
With Lewis’ death the calls to rename the bridge, which currently honors a Confederate general and KKK leader, have grown louder.
The change won’t come without a fight, however. Officials in the southern city oppose the name change, according to the Associated Press. Alabama state Rep. Prince Chestnut, whose legislative district includes Selma, said it would be inappropriate to rename the bridge for Lewis alone.
“There were many Selmians and Alabamians who were either on the bridge in March 1965, near the vicinity or precipitated the situation that changed this country for the better. John was not the only one,” Chestnut said in a statement to The Associated Press.