Find Posts By Topic

We are honored to build a bridge bearing John Lewis’ name

John Lewis in a photo from 1967. Lewis was a tireless civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman for several decades. Photo credit: Sam Falk/The New York Times

“Let’s build bridges, not walls.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Editor’s note: This blog post was collaboratively authored by many on the SDOT team, including members of our Black Employees Support Team (BEST), Salma Siddick, Matthew Howard, Dan Anderson, and editing support from Ethan Bancroft.

Building bridges is one of the most important acts we do as an agency – both literally and figuratively. Soon, a new bridge will open at Northgate to (re)connect a divided community by creating better access over I-5 to reach the new Northgate Link light rail station.

Visualization of the new John Lewis Memorial Bridge in Seattle. The bridge spans across I-5 in the center, with connections to the new Northgate Link light rail station to the left and North Seattle College to the right. Cars and trucks travel north and south along I-5 in the center of the image.
The new John Lewis Memorial Bridge will help reconnect communities and build new connections in Seattle and beyond.

While we called this the “Northgate Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge” during its planning and construction, the City of Seattle is officially naming this new bridge the John Lewis Memorial Bridge to honor African American hero and Civil Rights icon John Lewis. Though most people would recognize his name for his efforts in the Civil Rights Movement, his life and likeness represent so much more.

Lewis’ beginnings mirror those of many black people of his generation. Lewis was born in 1940 in rural Alabama, where his parents both worked as sharecroppers. From an early age, Lewis was a voracious reader – reading anything he could. Unfortunately, in Troy, Alabama, libraries were for whites only. Still determined, he kept reading whatever he could. From his family members who lived in northern cities he learned that buses there were not segregated as they were in the South. Perhaps it was this fact that moved him to take part as one of the first members of the Freedom Riders – that legendary group of young black and white individuals who risked their lives to expose how local government efforts to keep interstate bus routes segregated violated the Boynton v. Virginia decision. From this moment forward, he became increasingly involved in the Civil Rights Movement; linking up with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself, and even Rosa Parks (yes, that Rosa Parks!) in his pursuit of equality and justice for black people.

Photo of John Lewis, Martin Luther King, and other civil rights leaders marching in 1965. A crowd follows the demonstration and onlookers view the march as it moves forward.
Mr. Lewis, third from left, marching with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., right, from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on March 21, 1965. Photo credit: New York Times / William Lovelace / Daily Express, via Getty Images

Famously, he helped lead the march across the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, during the height of violent tensions in the Deep South for civil rights in 1965. That bridge, though far from Seattle, has become iconic as one of the many sites of the struggle for black people’s civil rights, oppressive violence toward peaceful marchers and protesters, and powerful imagery that has the power to change the course of human history.

Upon being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Lewis spent his life working to bring justice to all people in our country and overcome repression and discrimination. He also was a tireless advocate for empowering communities, using transit and transportation to give people opportunity, and for the environment. He supported numerous bills that would benefit transportation systems at the national, state, and local level. From H.R. 3513, a 2011 bill that would require at least 10 percent of certain transportation funding to be made available for small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, to the several Safe Streets Acts he voted for through the years, Lewis had a steadfast commitment to making transportation and community more equitable and safe. You can read more about the bills he supported on the website.

Photo of Congressman John Lewis standing tall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. in 2019. Congressman John Lewis looks somber and thoughtful. Other elected officials are visible in the background, along with artwork in the U.S. Capitol building.
Congressman John Lewis, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they wait to enter as a group to attend the memorial services for Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 24, 2019. Photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, pool

We at the City of Seattle share and champion the values Lewis and his collaborators and fellow marchers stood for in Selma, Alabama, and are working tirelessly to promote racial and social justice in our own community and end institutional racism within this government and for all the people we humbly serve.

We want to thank Councilmember Debora Juarez and the City Council for declaring the name of the new Northgate bridge the John Lewis Memorial Bridge. Regarding the naming the bridge, Councilmember Juarez had the following to say:

This bridge was built on a foundation with one goal in mind: bringing people together. This new infrastructure will transform much more than commutes it will transform the lives of North Seattle College students heading to class, families visiting the Kraken Iceplex, and seniors who cannot drive but still want to move about the city. Today we welcome a new era of prosperity for the North End with a commitment to livability, equity, and vitality.

The John Lewis Memorial bridge is a celebration of his life. Representative Lewis spent three decades building bridges, working across the aisle with folks with whom he shared fundamentally different beliefs while never losing sight of his life’s mission civil rights for all. Lewis taught a nation where real courage comes from, leading with light, not darkness and division.

When we name something, we are showing the truth of our history. Lewis represented the greatest of our city’s values, and with this bridge, we instill those values in the next generation of those walking, biking, and rolling across. Lewis taught a nation that when we fight for our democracy with joy, determination, and unity, we are limitless.”

–Seattle City Councilmember Debora Juarez

We want to thank community members who recommended and support this beautiful symbol of the best of our country and community for all who travel the area.

An artist's rendering of the new John Lewis Memorial Bridge in North Seattle. The bridge is visible in the upper center of the photo, full of pedestrians, cyclists, and people rolling. Vehicular traffic continues to flow on I-5 below, in the image's foreground.
An artist’s rendering of the new John Lewis Memorial Bridge across I-5 in Seattle, creating new connections for people walking, biking, and rolling.

But, most importantly, we want to thank the family of John Lewis for supporting us honoring him and bringing his vision for a better world to Seattle and all who come across this beautiful new bridge carrying his name. We build actual bridges out of concrete and steel, but we also seek to build bridges between people and to ideas – all these bridges are built to last.

With this naming, we are sure that the Seattle region will always have a bridge to John Lewis, his legacy, his values, and his family’s cause of justice for all.