Remembering Former U.S. Marshal Charles Burks, Who Protected 6-year-old Ruby Bridges

Former Federal Marshal Charles Burks poses with Civil Rights icon Ruby Bridges at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

I wish there were enough marshals to walk with every child as they face hatred and racism, and to support and encourage them the way these federal marshals did for me.

“I wish there were enough marshals to walk with every child as they face hatred and racism, and to support and encourage them the way these federal marshals did for me,” said Ruby Bridges, Civil Rights icon. In 2013, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Bridges shared this heartfelt sentiment with Charles Burks, one of the U.S. Marshals who escorted her to school, during a joint visit to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis fondly remembers Burks, who passed away on Monday, June 19, 2017, at the age of 95.

The story of Burks and Bridges began in New Orleans, LA in the fall of 1960. Then, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges became one of the first African American students to integrate a school in the American South. Flanked by four federal marshals, Ruby was escorted to school through angry mobs that threw things and yelled racial epithets at her. Ruby’s bravery inspired thousands to stand up for their rights and thousands more to be tolerant; it also inspired Norman Rockwell to create his famous painting, The Problem We All Live With. The story of Ruby Bridges (and her teacher and the marshals who protected her) is told in The Power Children exhibit at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

Responding to Ruby at their reunion in 2013, Burks said, “Like I told my great grandson, this was one of the highlights of my life.” Burks went on to say how he wanted people to know that the Rockwell painting represented much more than the Civil Rights Movement–that there were actual people who have names and families and that their lives made a difference.

Burks definitely made a difference. It had not been his first time dealing with danger or hatred. A pilot during World War II, he was shot down in 1944 and became a prisoner of war in Germany; in 1945 he managed to escape and get back to the American lines. After the war he joined the U.S. Marshals in Hammond, IN, where he was…

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