Morris County Commissioners joined Dover Mayor Carolyn Blackman, state Senator Anthony Bucco (R-25) and other dignitaries today to unveil a plaque dedicating the newly, rebuilt East Blackwell Street Bridge to the late John Robert Lewis, the Congressman and civil rights leader who died last year at age 80.
The plaque was erected on a pole at the front of the bridge, which spans the Rockaway River near the South Salem Street bridge.
It was rebuilt by Morris County last year using $1.85 million from the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) Local Bridges Future Needs program, and the Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution on Nov. 9 to name the new structure in honor of Congressman Lewis at Dover’s request.
“This bridge will be forever known as the John Robert Lewis Bridge … and I think, as we come out of this pandemic, his quote on the plaque is very fitting: “Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Never lose that sense of hope.” It’s very appropriate,” Commissioner Director Stephen Shaw said.
Commissioner Deputy Director Deborah Smith and Commissioner Tayfun Selen joined the ceremonial unveiling and noted the historical significance of naming bridges after Congressman Lewis.
Lewis was one of the leaders who organized the 1963 civil rights “March on Washington,” but rose to national prominence at age 25 when he led the famous Selma to Montgomery march in March 1965 across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
He and the rest of the marchers were brutally attacked by state troopers in a confrontation that ignited a national storm against racial injustice.
“It is particularly fitting that we are here today with another bridge to celebrate the Congressman’s life. We have to start dedicating these honors and have future generations able to Google his name someday and learn what John Lewis did,” Mayor Blackman said.
Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986, representing the state’s District 5 for 17 terms before he died last July. In 2011, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Work on the John Robert Lewis Bridge began in late January 2020 to replace the 37-year-old decking and it wrapped up a month ahead of schedule, allowing for a ribbon-cutting and road opening on November 18 after Morris County approved the renaming.
The plaque was erected subsequent to the replacement work and bears a quote attributed to Lewis: “Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Never lose that sense of hope.”
“This was a great work of three branches of government coming together: The state with major funding for this bridge, the county for the design and the work they put in, and Dover for all the work that was put in to make this bridge possible,” state Sen. Bucco said.
“A bridge connects two sides. Congressman Lewis, through his work as a civil rights leader, bridged the gap between races, brought people together, gave them a sense of hope for the future, as this bridge will do from now until the long future.”
The Dover bridge is used by 18,000 vehicles daily, and a speedy replacement of the span was needed because East Blackwell Street is a major artery for the town and its businesses.
“John Lewis dedicated his life to public service, risked his life for public service and may we all remember that,” said Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-25).
The John Robert Lewis plaque was unveiled after an invocation from the Rev. Rod Perez-Vega of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Dover.
Among the attendees were Denville Mayor Tom Andes, appearing on behalf of state Assemblyman Brian Bergen, Dover Administrator John Bennett and Dover Alderman Carlos Valencia.