WASHINGTON, D.C. - National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis has named Georgia Congressman John Lewis as a "Hero of History" for his role as a catalyst in the American Civil Rights movement and as a leader of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights.
The brief ceremony Thursday in the Congressman’s office in the Cannon Office Building came on the 48th anniversary of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march.
"Congressman John Lewis has dedicated his life to the non-violent struggle for social change in America," Jarvis said. "The Congressman’s story and the Civil Rights story are part of our nation’s history and culture that the National Park Service keeps alive. We recognize this part of the Civil Rights story in many places, including the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail. I think it is fitting to recognize Congressman Lewis for the historic part he lived."
On March 7, 1965, civil rights marchers drawing attention to the need for voting rights legislation were attacked by state and local police officials as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, an encounter that came to be known across the nation as "Bloody Sunday." Television coverage of the brutal attack, including horrific images of Lewis being beaten by the police, awakened many across the country to the issues of civil and voting rights and roused support for the important movement.
Two weeks later, protected by a court order and federal troops, Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led 3,200 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. By the time the march reached Montgomery four days later, the number of marchers had swelled to 25,000. Less than five months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, considered by the Justice Department as the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress.
Jarvis and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the designation of the Edmund Pettus Bridge as a national historic landmark last week. The designation signifies the bridge as a nationally significant historic place possessing exceptional value in illustrating the heritage of the United States.
The National Historic Landmarks Program is a cooperative endeavor of government agencies, professionals, independent organizations and individuals working jointly to identify and preserve America’s most important historic places. The National Historic Landmarks Program is administered by the National Park Service on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior.
Today, there are approximately 2,500 historic places across the country that bear this national distinction.