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Ruby Bridges meets with marshal who escorted her

Ruby Bridges, right, who integrated Louisiana schools in the 1960s, meets with Charles Burks, 91, who was one of the federal marshals who escorted her past angry crowds.
Ruby Bridges, right, who integrated Louisiana schools in the 1960s, meets with Charles Burks, 91, who was one of the federal marshals who escorted her past angry crowds.
Published Sep. 6, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS — Civil rights icon Ruby Bridges, who as a 6-year-old helped end public school segregation in 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 in some sort of parade, and they didn't frighten her.

"I didn't realize that it was actually an event that changed the face of education, that affected the wider world," said Bridges, who went on to become a travel agent.