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Clyburn renews calls to rename Selma bridge after John Lewis

The Edmund Pettus Bridge is named after a Confederate general who was a KKK leader.

The death of civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis on Friday, at the age of 80, has renewed calls to rename an Alabama bridge currently honoring a Confederate general who was a Ku Klux Klan leader.

Among those supporting efforts to name the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma after Lewis is the Georgia Democrat's close friend and colleague Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

The two met 60 years ago and served in Congress together for 27 years. Both are considered stewards of the civil rights movement, and Clyburn said Saturday on "Meet the Press" that it's long past time to rethink whose name is publicly celebrated.

"Pettus was a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan," Clyburn said. "Take his name off that bridge and replace it with a good man — John Lewis, the personification of the goodness of America — rather than honor someone who disrespected individual freedoms."

Coretta Scott King,John Lewis,
Aided by Father James Robinson, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., center, and John Lewis of the Voter Education Project, a crowd estimated by police at 5,000, march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma, Ala., on March 8, 1975.AP file

Lewis was one of several peaceful protesters who suffered serious injuries on the bridge in 1965 during a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. The nonviolent protesters were attacked by Alabama state troopers with tear gas and clubs on what later became known as "Bloody Sunday." Lewis suffered a skull fracture that day.

"Nonviolence was a way of life for John," Clyburn said Saturday during a separate interview on MSNBC. "He had credibility that none of us had. None of us made the sacrifices John made."

Calls to rename the bridge are not new. Earlier this summer, an online petition to name the bridge after Lewis garnered nearly 100,000 signatures, including that of Ava DuVernay, who directed the 2014 film "Selma." The petition was created by political strategist Michael Starr Hopkins, who told NBC News in June that the idea came to him as he was watching the movie 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.

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

Clyburn said renaming the bridge will "give the people of Selma something to rally around."

"I believe that will make a statement for people in this country that we do believe in that pledge, that vision of this country that's in the last phase of the [Pledge of Allegiance]: 'with liberty and justice for all.'"