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Mayor Announces Plan to Rename Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge as the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge

2/21/2014

Journalist Prevented a Man From Jumping off Bridge in 1954

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mayor Karl Dean today announced plans for Metro to rename the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge as the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge to honor the award-winning journalist and civil rights champion. As a reporter at The Tennesesan, Seigenthaler saved a man from jumping off the bridge in 1954.

“John Seigenthaler has made a difference in the life of our city and in the life of this country – and on an October day in 1954 he made a monumental difference in the life of one man,” Mayor Dean said. “It is fitting that this bridge be named to carry John’s name. While we are recognizing John’s heroism on that day, we are also honoring an entire life of courage, communication and inclusion. In all that he did, John built bridges, and those bridges have united people in our city to make Nashville one of the most vibrant, diverse and unified places anywhere.”

In 1954, while working as a reporter at The Tennessean, Seigenthaler was assigned to report on a man who was threatening to jump from the Shelby Avenue Bridge. Seigenthaler interviewed the man and ended up saving his life.

“I am deeply honored and appreciative to Mayor Dean,” Seigenthaler said. “I love this city, and I am humbled to be recognized in such a special way.”

Metro plans to host an event on the bridge at 4 p.m. on April 29 to unveil a plaque with the bridge’s new name. The event is free and open to the public.

Seigenthaler served 43 years at The Tennessean and at his retirement was editor, publisher and CEO. He remains chairman emeritus. He was founding editorial director of USA Today, and he served in that position until his retirement from both The Tennessean and USA Today in 1991.

Seigenthaler also is founder of the First Amendment Center, which serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, and the rights to assemble and to petition the government. In 2002, Vanderbilt University created the John Seigenthaler Center in Seigenthaler’s honor and named the building after him that now houses the offices of the First Amendment Center, as well as the Freedom Forum and the Diversity Institute.

In the early 1960s, Seigenthaler served a stint in the U.S. Justice Department as administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. His work in the field of civil rights led to his service as chief negotiator with the governor of Alabama during the Freedom Rides.

Last year, Seigenthaler co-chaired a nine-month celebration and public education campaign commemorating the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

Seigenthaler has served on numerous prominent boards and commissions. Former Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen appointed Seigenthaler to chair the Commission of Twelve on Law Enforcement and Justice to find ways to reduce crime in Nashville in the 1990s. Seigenthaler also chaired a state panel, the Commission on the Future of the Tennessee Judicial System.

Legislation to rename the bridge was filed today with the Metro Council. The ordinance is scheduled to be on first reading on March 4.