Mayor Karl Dean, joined by Gov. Bill Haslam and Andrea Conte of You Have the Power, Know How to Use It Inc., dedicated the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge to honor the award-winning journalist and civil rights champion. As a reporter at The Tennessean, Seigenthaler saved a man from jumping off the bridge in 1954.
“This is a great day in the history of our city,” Mayor Dean said. “When you study John Seigenthaler’s life, you learn about a man who has spent his years working to make life better for other people. No matter how large or small the task, if it’s going to help someone or help our community in some way, John is there giving it everything he has. And he has a lot to give. Our city, and the world we live in, is a better place because he’s in it.”
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’m honored and deeply appreciative,” Seigenthaler said. “I’ve had the great good fortune to be born and raised in Nashville—lucky in life and lucky in love. Dolores joins me in thanking Mayor Dean, Andrea Conte and Gov. Haslam for making this such a great day for my family and me. I also express my thanks to the members of the Metro Council for making this possible.”
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen also attended the event. The event included performances by the University School Choir. Demetria Kalodimos served as emcee. The Metro Council recently approved an ordinance to rename the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge in honor of Seigenthaler.
Following the event, You Have the Power hosted a private event to honor Seigenthaler with the Powerhouse Award.
“John Seigenthaler has a way of bringing people together,” Conte said. “Political affiliation, age, religion, social status—all become irrelevant when he speaks. He connects like no one I’ve ever seen, and he lifts everyone to a higher level.”
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.