Public forum to be held on possibility of renaming the Talmadge Bridge

Public forum to be held on renaming the Talmadge Bridge
Updated: Aug. 15, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Talmadge Bridge is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Savannah, but some say the name doesn't represent the inclusivity of the city.

The bridge is named for three-time Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge, who is known for opposing social and political equality for everyone.

The group "Span the Gap" is hosting a public forum to get input about the name. Organizers say they've heard ideas like "The Great Savannah Bridge" or the "Juliette Gordon Low Bridge."

Several efforts have been made to change the name over the years, most recently in 2013, but all have failed.

Ron Christopher, a spokesperson for "Span the Gap," said growing up, his family intentionally found other routes  to South Carolina to avoid the bridge because of its name.

"(When I hear the name) a number of things come to mind," Christopher said. "Hardly any of them good. I happen to be aware of his history of racism, of segregation, of white supremacy, and I just think of how that's a mismatch for what I know Savannah to be. I firmly believe that most of the people in Savannah do not adhere to those types of beliefs, and it's about time to unburden ourselves with this label."

With the current events, like the violence in Charlottesville, Va., he says acting now is especially important.

"Particularly in light of what we've seen in Charlottesville, we know that there are hate groups out there that derive energy from these types of symbols," Christopher said. "They turn around, and they use that energy to spread hate. They see the memorials, and they see the names of the bridges, named after notorious individuals. They get energy, and they think perhaps they get legitimacy from it. We're looking to take that away."

Local historians say people are often more opposed to the name of the bridge than the Confederate statue in Forsyth Park.

"I don't think it's received the attention, say, that the Talmadge Bridge has, which is named for one of the most openly racist governor's we've ever had,"  said Stan Deaton, a senior historian for the Georgia Historical Society. "I think that's a symbol of opposition in Savannah much more than we've seen to the Confederate monument."

Christopher said, "What I think most of us would like to see is that the city and the bridge, or at least the name of the bridge, match, right? We'd like to welcome people. We'd like to know that they're welcomed, and that's people across all diversities, regardless of your race, regardless of what your beliefs are. You're welcome here in Savannah."

If you want to get in on the discussion, it's September 5 at the historic Savannah Theater from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The public will be able to submit questions to the moderator for the panel to answer.

Any official name change must be approved by state lawmakers.

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