INDIANAPOLIS — “I would dream that this coffin had wings and it would fly around my bed at night, and so it was a dream that happened a lot and that’s what frightened me,” she said.
Burks and the other marshals escorted the young Bridges to and from school for several weeks before local police took over that duty. Eventually the crowds dispersed and she no longer needed protection.
The first tense days outside the school were captured by Norman Rockwell in a painting that depicts a young black girl carrying textbooks and a ruler being led by marshals past a wall marred by a splattered tomato and a scrawled racial epithet.
Bridges, who went on to become a travel agent, said seeing that painting in her late teens made her realize her role in U.S. history.
“I didn’t realize that it was actually an event that changed the face of education, that affected the wider world,” she said.
Bridges said was happy she got to meet again with Burks to discuss their shared experience and record their memories for the museum’s exhibit, which also highlights the lives of Anne Frank and Ryan White.
She said she hopes the exhibit can help children understand both U.S. history and the civil rights movement’s victories and the work that still remains to overcome the nation’s legacy of racism.
The pair hugged more than once during Thursday’s reunion, sitting before two Associated Press photos, one showing Bridges entering the school and the other exiting it, both under the watchful eyes of Burks and the other marshals.
Burks, who has 11 great-grandchildren and last month celebrated he and wife Betty’s 68th wedding anniversary, said he has framed copies of both photos in their north-central Indiana home.
“Every time I walk down the hall past those pictures, it reminds me of those days. It was something great and dramatic in my life. I tell my grandchildren it was one of the highlights of my life. And I’m glad I was involved.”