Passing of Lucille Bridges and True Leadership
This week, we saw the passing of another iconic figure from America’s storied Civil Rights Movement. It was surreal in a way, as her legacy was recently invoked after the election of Kamala Harris, as Vice President of the United States. As was expected, many expressions of art were created to capture the historic election of a Black woman to the nation’s second highest position. In particular, a painting featuring Norman Rockwell’s 1964 famous depiction of a six-year-old Ruby Bridges, who helped to desegregate public schools, and Kamala Harris, walking alongside one another, has drawn immense attention. Lucille Bridges, who died on Nov. 10, 2020, was Ruby Bridges mother.
As the parent of an only child, I have often wondered if I would have had the strength exhibited by Bridges in the 1960’s Jim Crow south. It was one thing to make the decision to protest and fight against racial division and hate, as an adult woman. It was another thing, to allow your first-grade daughter to be a test case for school integration. Ruby was exposed to protests, jeers, and threats to her life. Ultimately the child, who likely didn’t fully understand the danger surrounding her, was escorted to school by officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Lucille and Abon Bridges, in responding to a request from the NAACP for volunteers to help move Louisiana schools beyond the doctrine of “separate but equal,” made a choice that not many parents would make today. All of their lives were upended: Abon lost his job; Ruby’s grandparents were forced off land they sharecropped on for more than 25 years and the family was denied access to local stores and services.
Mrs. Bridges death requires that we acknowledge the ugly truth about race and the problems we still face. It also beckons a reckoning with ideals of leadership and sacrifice. I am struck by the courage of this woman, and her family, when juxtaposed against the backdrop of what passes for leadership today. Afterall, while watching some local and national elected officials question our system of voting and democracy, we are forced to think about leadership. In speaking up for fairness and taking actions to combat racism and bullying, the Bridges took enormous personal risk.
Today, we watch elected officials who can’t risk a mean “tweet.” We are being led by people who would rather hide behind “no comment” than speak up for what is right. Worse yet, we have leaders who are more interested in self-preservation than what is good for the nation. As we have witnessed the deaths of U.S. Rep John Lewis and Elijah Cummings, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rev. C.T. Vivian, and Katherine Johnson (Hidden Figures Mathematician), we understand what true profiles in courage look like.
While we have a number of people that do incredible work every day to make this country better, somedays, it seems fair to say that “They just don’t make em’ like they used to.” Rest in Power, Mrs. Bridges.