By Chuck Hobbs (Hobbservation Point)

From my vantage point, real courage is knowing that you are walking into the valley of the shadow of death—and still walking towards it boldly and confidently.

On March 7, 1965, the late John Lewis, then a 24-year-old leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), did just that as he calmly led hundreds of marchers down the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to a vicious beating by police officers and assorted non deputized cretins—and into the annals of history for bravery and courage under duress.

The late John Lewis standing on the very bridge that he bravely crossed into titan status in 1965…

While Lewis would eventually serve in Congress for four nearly decades before passing from Pancreatic Cancer two years ago this week, his heroism on the Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday” remains a legendarily defiant act that turned the tide in favor of the Voting Rights Act that was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the summer of ‘65.

Lewis (tan trench coat) slowly descending into the lion’s den on “Bloody Sunday…

Would Black voting rights have been secured had Lewis and others not been savagely beaten on “Bloody Sunday?” I am not sure, but what I am sure of is that such savagery by the racist arbiters of powers in Alabama—and the grace and humility by the oppressed that Lewis led—moved LBJ to act swiftly and decisively to use his Oval Office pulpit to secure rights that had actually belonged to Black men since the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1868, and to Black women since the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1919. Rights, I remind, that had been thwarted by the Ku Klux Klan, White Citizens’ Councils, and assorted degenerates until Lewis led that march down the Pettus Bridge!

Now, most students of American History know “why” the Pettus Bridge was important from a civil rights perspective, but many don’t know “who” Pettus was—and why I have argued for years that it should be renamed in honor of John Lewis!

Edmund Pettus (above), born in 1821, was a lawyer who was granted the rank of Brigadier General in the Confederate Army when the Civil War erupted in 1861. After the war ended in 1865, Pettus returned to Alabama and resumed his law practice in Selma, where he later became a judge, a U.S. Senator, and infamously, the Grand Dragon for the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.

Sen. Pettus died in 1907; in 1940, during some of the worst days of the Jim Crow era, the formerly wooden two-lane bridge into Selma was replaced by a steel bridge that was soon named in his honor.

In 1965, 99 % of registered voters in Selma were white, while only 1 % was Black! This fact made Selma the perfect starting point to march to the State Capitol in Montgomery on March 7th.

Women were beaten bloody, too, on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965…

Two weeks later, after the images of the carnage were blasted worldwide, Dr. Martin Luther King, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Rev. C.K. Steele and others completed the second march from Selma to Montgomery with no physical opposition due to the mikitsry’s presence, but still were jeered by racists who brandished the Confederate Battle Flag along the march route.

As America still reckons with its Jim Crow past in 2022, most rational people are finally realizing that the bridges, statues, and monuments named for former Confederates and Klansmen were done to:

1. Terrorize and mock Black people yearning for basic equal rights in the early to mid 20th Century.

2. To honor what men like Klan Wizard Edmund Pettus fought for and believed, which was white supremacy and the enslavement, degradation, and systematic murders of Black people.

As I often argue, the horrific misdeeds of folks like Edmund Pettus should be studied in books or chronicled in museums—where context and truth can be discerned by the careful student. But just as there are NO monuments in public plazas to honor Adolf Hitler, and NO schools or streets named in honor of members of the Nazi High Command in Germany, there SHOULD NOT be any monuments, schools, streets, or military bases named to honor the very men who enslaved, terrorized, and killed Black people to maintain an unequal racial hierarchy in America.

Lest we forget why an American traitor like Grand Klan Wizard Pettus deserves no public honor, while remembering why a true American patriot and hero—Congressman John Lewis—deserves to be remembered each time we, the people, walk or drive across that bridge into or out of Selma, Alabama…

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