SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The passing of John Lewis has launched a new effort to rename Savannah’s famous Talmadge Bridge, this time after the late congressman.
The legislation to rename it will be filed in October by Savannah lawmakers State Sen. Lester Jackson and State Rep. Craig Gordon.
This isn’t the first time someone has tried to change the bridge’s name — but it might be the right moment to get it done.
Originally built and named in 1952, the Talmadge Bridge bears the name of former Georgia Gov. Eugene Talmadge, a known segregationist.
“I think it was pretty controversial at that time, because he always trafficked in the worst of racial politics in the 20th Century,” said Dr. Stan Deaton, with the Georgia Historical Society.
The bridge was rebuilt in 1991 to accommodate taller ships. In 2018, State Rep. Ron Stephens tried and failed to name the bridge after Juliette Gordon Low, Girl Scouts of America founder, claiming the new span had never been officially renamed.
“She has, of course, made the home of the Girl Scouts of America in Savannah,” Stephens said. “It has grown to tens of thousands of girls all over the world.”
He says he understands the desire to honor Lewis by naming the bridge after him but questions the need because of plans to tear down the Talmadge in the next decade, again, for larger ships.
“There will be either a new one or a tunnel, and, yeah, I think we’re wasting our time, and could probably find something a little more significant for the man that John Lewis was,” Stephens said.
But Deaton argues that now may actually be the perfect time to make the change.
“We’ve seen, over the last couple of months, a desire on the part of many Americans to begin to have some of the difficult conversations about race in our history,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sen. David Perdue and nine congressmen sent letters to Gov. Brian Kemp and other state officials requesting they replace the statue of Alexander Hamilton Stephens with a statue of Lewis in the United States Capitol Statuary Hall.