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September 6, 2013

Ruby Bridges meets with marshal who escorted her

INDIANAPOLIS — Civil rights icon Ruby Bridges, who as a 6-year-old helped end public school segregation in the South, was reunited Thursday with one of the federal marshals who had escorted her past angry crowds so she could attend a previously all-white school.

Bridges, who in 1960 became the first black child to attend an all-white school in New Orleans, met with Charles Burks at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which was filming the pair for its permanent exhibit called “The Power of Children.” Burks, now 91, is the only one of the four marshals who escorted Bridges to and from school who is still alive.

“Thank you Charlie for doing what was right at a time when it might not have been the easiest thing to do,” she told Burks.

Burks said escorting Bridges to school was a highlight of his life, adding that he supported the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision that struck down segregation in public schools. Bridges was in first-grade when she started attending William Frantz Elementary School on Nov. 14, 1960, as the court-ordered integration of public schools began in New Orleans.

“It was a privilege to be able to do what I did, even though it was one of my duties. Everybody says it was just another job to do, but it was a wonderful job,” said Burks, who lives in Logansport, Ind.

Before Thursday’s meeting Bridges and Burks had reunited only once, in 1995, since 1960.

Bridges, now 58, said she didn’t realize at the time the role she was playing in helping end segregation because her parents had not explained everything that was happening. She thought the loud crowds that gathered daily outside the school were taking part some sort of parade, such as Mardis Gras, and they didn’t frighten her.

But Bridges, who still lives in New Orleans, did recall seeing a black doll in a baby’s casket the crowd taunted her with, a haunting image she said gave her nightmares.

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