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Walking in the Footsteps
of History

On March 7, 1965, at the south side of Edmund Pettus Bridge, armed State Troopers attacked peaceful civil rights activists attempting to march to the state capital of Montgomery in an incident that became known as Bloody Sunday. Selma, like much of the south, was an entirely segregated city and it was, as Craig Barton illustrates in Sites of Memory: Perspectives on Architecture and Race, “replete with redundant cultural systems and whose landscape was designed to create spatial, political hierarchies designated by race.” The bridge, however, was a singular construction that provided the connection between the City of Selma and the environs of Dallas County. As a structural and symbolic point of connection between the dual geographies of Selma, it became a focal point for the Civil Rights movement. Because of the design of the bridge and dramatic shift in topography, the 600 marchers were unable to see what awaited them until they reached the apex of the bridge’s deck, 100 feet above the Alabama River. Despite the danger ahead, the marchers continued but as they moved into Dallas County, they were attacked with tear gas, beaten with billy clubs, and forced to retreat to Selma.

Despite the vivid archival material, little interpretation addresses the physical context and experiential timeline of “Bloody Sunday.” Visitors walk the Edmund Pettus Bridge, designated at National Historic Landmark in 2013, and often base their perception of the site on the historical drama Selma (2014): they pause on the apex of bridge, thinking this was close to the line of conflict, as well as the point where Martin Luther King, Jr., other religious leaders, and marchers paused to kneel in prayer on Turnaround Tuesday, March 9, 1965. These perceptions were reinforced by the metered procession of the horse-drawn caisson carrying Representative Lewis’s casket for his final crossing of the bridge on July 26, 2020.

To digitally record this significant Civil Rights site and to make the specific context of the event more experientially engaging to the public, this project’s multidisciplinary team of designers, architectural historians, Civil Rights historians, cultural resource managers, and construction technology specialists are pairing collected 3D digital data of Selma’s extant structures with digital reconstructions to recreate the site. By melding the physical and virtual, this project presents a broader understanding of the events of 1965 in and around Selma through enhanced historic interpretation by animating famous photographs through immersive visualization, creating interactive digital platforms for exploring fragile archival content such as the Good Samaritan Hospital logbook, and affording virtual tours where visitors can safely explore the Bloody Sunday conflict site that is bordered by a busy highway.

Georgia Tech student researchers include S. Henry, C. Langsdorf, S. Li, S. Nanda, S. Park, P. Rangel, B. Simran, A. Somasundaram, C. Waweru and E. Wright. This project is the result of an ongoing collaboration with Auburn University, including faculty (J. Liu, R. Burt, K. Hébert, and E. Gaddis) and students (C. Brown, A. Davis, M. Gibbs, and S. Page). The team is currently completing a Historic Structures Report on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, sponsored by a National Park Service African American Civil Rights Grant.


  • Danielle Willkens
  • Junshan Liu
  • Aaron Shackleford
  • Sydnee Henry
  • Sean Li
  • Sakshi Nanda
  • Patricia J. Rangel
  • Christian Waweru
  • Eden Wright
  • Thomas Bray
  • So Min Park