Bridge of Quiet Courage: Late county commissioner Walter Curtis Butler, Jr. honored with bridge over Interstate 20
Story and Photos by Patrick Yost
At the same moment the black cloth covering the sign designating the U.S. 441 bridge over Interstate 20 as the Walter Curtis Butler Jr. Memorial Bridge fell so did the tears on Laura Butler’s face.
Under the glare of police car blue lights at the bridge ceremony, Laura Butler wept. It was a moving moment and one born out of the more than year–long efforts to have her husband’s accomplishments recognized. The more than 200 people at the dedication, including a wide host of local and state officials, cheered.
“My heart is overjoyed that the work Walter did in Morgan County is not in vain,” Laura said.
The memorial was made possible by a city of Madison resolution, approved in January, 2010, that called for the naming of the bridge in Walter Curtis Butler, Jr.’s honor.
Walter Curtis Butler, Jr. died August,1 2008 after suffering with lung cancer.
He was the first African–American voted to public office in Morgan County when he won a seat in 1982 on the Morgan County Board of Commissioners that he would not relinquish until his death. He also served as president of the Georgia NAACP for many years and founded the Morgan County Branch, NAACP where he served as president or vice president for decades.
At the bridge ceremony, the Rev. W.J. Reid remarked that the memorial will stand as a remembrance for generations to come. “His name will be observed and kept in the minds of people for years to come.”
Georgia Rep. Tyrone Brooks, who also serves as the president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials and the co–sponsor of the resolution to name the bridge after Walter Curtis Butler, Jr. along with District 112 Rep. Doug Holt, said the honor bestowed was fitting. “Walter Curtis Butler Jr.’s name will be on this bridge forever. He was a great leader of the NAACP.”
Butler’s son, Walter Curtis Butler III, remarked that the overflow crowd at the ceremony represented the respect the community and state held for his father. “My father meant a lot to this community. We have a diverse group of people out her and if my father is looking at me he is smiling. He knows the community came out to this.”
Not only the community. Along with Brooks and Holt a host of elected officials attended the ceremony, both at the bridge and later at Madison’s Town Park. Sen. Johnny Grant, who ushered the resolution through the Georgia Senate, spoke at Town Park and said Butler spent “his entire life trying to make this world a better place.”
Brooks lauded Butler’s work with the state and national NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement. “To be a part of this today is personally an honor,” he said.
Madison City Council member Michael Naples, who initiated the resolution, wept when remembering the sacrifices Butler made to family and friends in the advancement of Civil Rights. “This man deserves every honor he can get just because of his Civil Rights work.”
Donald Harris, the Morgan County Board of Commissioner who succeeded Butler on the commission, said Walter Curtis Butler, Jr. was proactive in his search of equity and fairness. “He believed it was far better for all of us not to just speak out against injustice but to seek it out.”
The Town Park ceremony was attended by more than 100 people and included most of Walter Curtis Butler’s Jr.’s immediate family as well as state NAACP representatives, Madison City Council members and Madison Mayor Bruce Gilbert.
Rep. Holt remembered working with, and sometimes against, Walter Curtis Butler Jr. but applauded his ability to build consensus and work fairly to resolve issues.
“Walter Curtis Butler, Jr. understood the importance of stepping across the divide,” Holt said at Town Park.
“This community is better off for his acts of quiet courage…”