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John Lewis makes final journey across Edmund Pettus Bridge in procession

At age 25, Lewis and other marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were met by heavily armed police who attacked them with clubs, fracturing Lewis' skull
Credit: CNN
Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis is seen here in Selma, Alabama. Lewis has been hospitalized but is expected to be released. (FILE)

SELMA, Ala. — The body of the late US Rep. John Lewis on Sunday made the final journey across the famous bridge in Selma, Alabama, where he helped lead a march for voting rights in 1965.

At age 25, Lewis and other marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were met by heavily armed state and local police who attacked them with clubs, fracturing Lewis' skull.

Following a short ceremony outside of Brown Chapel AME Church, Lewis' body traveled on a horse-drawn caisson through several blocks of downtown Selma until it reaches the base of the bridge. Lewis' casket on the caisson crossed the bridge alone. The caisson paused as it crossed the bridge beneath the awning that bears the bridge's name for approximately one minute.

After crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the last time, family members and Alabama state troopers met the body of the late congressman on the other side. Fifty-five years ago, state troopers were among the law enforcement officers that clashed with protesters on the same bridge.

Sunday's event is part of a six-day memorial ceremony honoring the longtime Georgia Democrat that began on Saturday in his hometown of Troy, Alabama. The civil rights legend died on July 17 at the age of 80 after a six-month battle with cancer.

The day Lewis and the marchers initially crossed the bridge became known as "Bloody Sunday" and galvanized Americans' support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

"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 march has been reenacted many times on its March 7, 1965, anniversary. 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. He was known for getting into "good trouble," and by his own count, the congressman was arrested more than 40 times during his days of civil rights activism.

In the week 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. At the same time, there have been 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.

Lewis visited the bridge earlier this year to mark the 55th anniversary of the historical march. In an emotional scene, Lewis locked arms with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress to commemorate the pivotal moment for Black Americans.

"It is good to be in Selma, Alabama, one more time," Lewis said as he spoke to the crowd assembled on the bridge. "To take a little walk to try to dramatize the need for the rights of all our people to be able to participate in the democratic process."

This story has been updated with additional details about the bridge crossing.

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