D.C. renames Benning Road Bridge after longtime activist Ethel Kennedy

(WJLA) - Members of the Kennedy family celebrated the dedication of a bridge named after Ethel Kennedy, the widow of the late U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

The Benning Road Bridge over the Anacostia River in River Terrace Park was re-named for the longtime environmental activist. She is also an advocate for under-served youth in the District.

Like the woman it's named after, the Ethel Kennedy Bridge connects east and west Washington, black and white, rich and poor.

Her son Bobby Kennedy, Jr. said, “She didn't just parachute in, stay a day and then leave. She's been here for 40 years, working for this community.”

The dedication ceremony featured praise from D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Congressman Steny Hoyer and Attorney General Eric Holder.

“[She has been] a major positive force in this city for decades,” said Hold. “And to be here to honor her for a bridge-naming is one of the highlights of my career.”

Ethel Kennedy had resisted previous attempts by D.C. leaders to honor her. “Undeserved,” she said. “But I'm very grateful for it. It was a great honor. You know I love Anacostia.”

D.C. government officials acknowledge the bridge was officially renamed in 2009 during Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration, but the Kennedy family recently contacted them inquiring why no dedication ceremony had been held.

Kennedy has long been a supporter of the organization Youth Conservation Corps, serving at-risk D.C. youth and focused on cleaning the Anacostia River – over which the bridge crosses.

Earth Conservation Corps worker Keisha Albarega said, “Kids really don't know why it's important to keep [the river] clean, so it makes me frustrated. But I know it is, so I'm doing my job to keep it clean.”

Program participants, past and present, said Kennedy often rolled up her own sleeves to help their efforts. One after another, they thanked her.

Many described her humble, can-do attitude: a fun lady, with a feisty personality.

Earth Conservation Corps youth director Lashauntya Moore amused the crowd of family members and dignitaries, detailing her first impression of the Kennedy matriarch.

“We wanted to roll out the red carpet for you. And so as we get on the boat, and we're like grabbing your arm and saying, ‘Let me help you.’ You're like, ‘Get off me. I've got it. I was in a boat before you were born.’ And so we were like, okay.. No problem.”

Kennedy’s late husband was also a champion for civil rights. Just about a mile away, across the river, stands Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

During the ceremony, both federal and local leaders vowed to maintain both sites for generations to come.