What was once the sight of concrete and steel stained with blood 55 years ago, became a touching memorial for a civil rights giant. Sunday morning, the late U.S. Rep. John Robert Lewis made his final crossing over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. It was here the legendary Lieutenant for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped lead a civil rights march in 1965.
Lewis passed away on July 17 at the age of 80 after a six-month battle with cancer.
Amid shouts of “Thank You” and Good Trouble,” the phrase he used to describe scuffles with white authorities, Lewis’ flag-draped casket was transported on a horse-drawn caisson through several blocks of downtown Selma.
The black caisson was modeled after the one Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had for his funeral, with red-brown wheels and pulled by two black horses.
It was on this very bridge that a 25-year-old Lewis and other marchers were met by heavily armed state and local police who attacked them with clubs, fracturing the civil rights giant’s skull.
The caisson paused atop the bridge over the Alabama River as the cicadas sang. Some sang the gospel song Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed on Jesus. Later, some onlookers sang the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome and This Little Light of Mine.
A small group of family members — including Lewis’ son John-Miles Lewis, brothers Freddie Lewis, Samuel Lewis and Henry “Grant” Lewis, and the late congressman’s sister, Rosa Tyner — joined the caisson and took part of the procession.
The procession was then met by Alabama State Troopers. A far cry from the last time troopers met Lewis and other protesters. Watch below:
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On March 7, 1965, when Dr. King, Lewis and marchers initially crossed the bridge, they were met by heavily armed Alabama troopers who attacked them, almost killing Lewis.
“I gave a little blood on that bridge,” Lewis said years later. “I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death.”
The day became known as “Bloody Sunday” and galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In 2015, President Barack Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the march by delivering a speech at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the following year, the marchers received a Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest civilian honor.
Lewis served as the US representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for more than three decades and was widely considered the moral conscience of Congress because of his decades-long embodiment of the nonviolent fight for civil rights.
Since his death, Democratic lawmakers have called on President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass legislation that would expand voting rights in honor of Lewis’ legacy.
There are also renewed calls to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in honor of the congressman, which includes a petition with more than 500,000 signatures.
The bridge’s namesake, Edmund Pettus, was a Confederate general and leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama.
The icon’s body will be brought to the Alabama Capitol in the afternoon to lie in repose.