Saturday 28 January 2023
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Straight No Chaser: The Winston Connection to the Edmund Pettus Bridge

Op/Ed By Gloria Winston Al-Sarag


Gloria Winston Al-Sarag

Gloria Winston Al-Sarag

There was something more to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. than I realized, until recently. There was something about Edmund Pettus’ name that made me go back, and research, and familiarize myself with the white ancestral chart I have of the white Winstons.  

The historic march through Selma, and across the bridge, has received its fair share of notoriety recently. The movie “Selma,” produced by Oprah Winfrey, was timely, and more than historically significant to those who marched, lived through it, and who are members of the generation which has now been enlightened to the struggles. The have become familiar with a march that not only cost lives, but will go down in history, hopefully, forever.

The resurgence of the historic march has also gained momentum for those seeking to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On, there has been a petition that seeks to remove what is called “Selma’s KKK Memorialization.” The petition was created by a user called “Students Unite,” and states:

“Remove Selma’s KKK Memorialization: Rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge:

Fifty years ago, the Voting Rights Movement marched through Selma, and over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The marches across the bridge led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and today the bridge is a symbol of nonviolent victory for change!

Unfortunately, the bridge is STILL named after a man who served as Grand Dragon of the Alabama Klu Klux Klan, was a confederate general, and was later elected as a United States senator.

The bridge was the site of “Bloody Sunday.” On March 7, 1965, hundreds of nonviolent protesters attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery for their right to vote. But, as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met by Alabama state troopers, and deputized civilians, who were armed with billy clubs, tear gas, and cattle prods, and attacked the marchers and drove them back to Brown Chapel Church.”

If Edmund Pettus’ middle name had  been used in naming the bridge it would be “Edmund Winston Pettus.” And, I have just recently discovered I am a descendent of Edmund Winston Pettus, as well as every other Winston whose ancestors were fathered by any of the white Winstons who owned cotton plantations throughout the state of Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, and beyond.  

My research had determined, some time ago, that there were three Winston sons of Isaac Winston in 1620 England, who emigrated to America. James and William settled in Virginia. In addition, Anthony Winston Jr., a Revolutionary War captain, relocated to Franklin County, Ala., before the state was formed. He was a land baron, banker, and politician, whose son Isaac Winston (the son who I suspect fathered my grandfather, the enslaved Anthony Winston), bought a plantation in 1833 called Belle Mont.  My grandfather, Anthony, was born in 1828, the same year Isaac’s father, Anthony, died. I suspect my grandfather was given the name Anthony as some sort of honor. But, I digress.

Isaac Winston had a brother named William, who was the father of the first Alabama-born governor, John Anthony Winston. Both were uncles to Pamela Winston, who married John Jones Pettus, her first cousin. She was the niece of captain Anthony Winston. One of their sons was Edmund Winston Pettus, who later became an Alabama senator, as well as Grand Marshall of the KKK. There were, at least, five Winston plantations in Franklin County during the Civil War, and countless others in Sumter County, Ala. In addition, one of the larger plantations that held Winston slaves was in Troop County, West Point, Ga.

This information will no doubt mean more to black Winston kinfolks attempting to locate their ancestors and true beginnings. In my immediate family, it had always been rumored we were kin to George Wallace, as well. My great grandmother, Ella Butler, was a Wallace from Shelby County, Columbiana, Ala. However, I have not yet been able to determine where in the George Wallace family we are possibly linked.

Just to recap, the bottom line is that, it appears Edmund Winston Pettus, the one the infamous bridge is named after, is a distant cousin of mine, at the very least. His mother, Pamela, was the daughter of the Anthony who fathered Isaac of Belle Mont, and would have been a grandfather of mine three times removed.

In genealogy, the unwritten rule is that one needs three kinds of proof before one may claim fact. That is the hardest part about conducting any research regarding enslaved ancestors. Records, in many cases, are non-existent. However, I do know that my great grandfather Anthony’s mother was from Africa. When I located her death certificate, that is what it said, that she was born in Africa. Where, I have no clue. But, hopefully, DNA will help me discover the origin of her African roots. I suspect Ethiopia, but want to verify what I suspect.

I have been an arm-chair genealogist for decades now, for those who are unaware. My favorite passion is to connect families. I am not certified, but I have had successes in connecting others families, which makes it all worthwhile to me. Additionally, I have always supported and engaged youth in searching for their ancestry whenever the opportunity has presented itself.

Today, technology has become increasingly important when beginning a family search. We all have a story, and a family of strong people who have endured, escaped and overcome that “peculiar institution.” It is finding out how, that I have always found intriguing. You can imagine my surprise to find out Edmund Winston Pettus is a part of my lineage.