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Petition to rename Edmund Pettus Bridge after Rep. John Lewis endorsed by Ava DuVernay

Over 99,000 people support the effort to rename the civil rights landmark in Selma, Alabama, which honors a Confederate general and KKK leader.
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Filmmaker Ava DuVernay joined the call to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama — dedicated to a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader — to honor Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the civil rights icon.

The petition to rename the bridge was created by political strategist Michael Starr Hopkins, who told NBC News on Monday that the idea came to him as he was watching the 2014 film "Selma" on his couch after days of protesting.

"I was kind of taking an evening to just relax and watch some movies, and as I was watching 'Selma' I realized we wait far too often until people are gone to honor them," Hopkins said.

Lewis, who sustained serious injuries on the bridge in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, was a perfect example of someone who should be honored while he is living, Hopkins said.

IMAGE: Coretta Scott King and John Lewis in 1975
Joined by Coretta Scott King and John Lewis, then of the Voter Education Project, a crowd estimated at 5,000 people marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on March 8, 1975, to mark the 10th anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" civil rights march.AP file

On March 7, 1965, known as "Bloody Sunday," the peaceful protesters who marched across the bridge were attacked by state troopers with tear gas and clubs. Lewis, who suffered a skull fracture, was one of dozens of demonstrators who were hospitalized.

The bridge is named after Alabama native Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general in the Civil War whose family profited from slavery, according to Smithsonian Magazine. After the war, Pettus settled in Selma, where he became a U.S. senator and a Grand Dragon in the KKK.

"While he's still here, it would be the perfect time for Lewis to see Pettus' name taken down and his name put there," Hopkins said.

DuVernay, who directed "Selma," tweeted Saturday that she had signed the petition and urged others to do the same.

"It is named after a KKK grand wizard and confederate warlord," Hopkins said. "Edmund Pettus Bridge should be the John Lewis Bridge. Named for a hero. Not a murderer. Join this call. It's past due."

The petition, which had gained more than 99,000 signatures by Monday afternoon, asks for 150,000 signatures to be sent to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. Ivey's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Full coverage of George Floyd's death and protests around the country

The deadly arrest of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 reignited conversations about longstanding racial inequalities in the country, leading to weeks of protests and marches to disrupt systemic racism in institutions that have marginalized Black Americans. The focus on racial justice has also been paired with a renewed call to take down monuments and dedications to Confederate generals.

Arguments to keep the monuments up for the sake of history feel disingenuous, Hopkins said.

"You don't see monuments to Nazis in Germany. You don't see monuments to Mussolini in Italy," Hopkins said. "There's no reason African Americans should have to see monuments to people like Edmund Pettus."

As an African American man, Hopkins said, he feels heard for the first time when he expresses his feelings about these issues. He said the sustained protests and calls for change in the wake of Floyd's death have given him renewed faith in people.

Although he acknowledged that change will not end with the renaming of a bridge, Hopkins said it is a push in the right direction.

"We are walking in the footsteps of giants, and those giants are people like John Lewis," Hopkins said.