REMARKS OF ERIC H. HOLDER, JR.
Thank you Mr. Levy for that kind introduction and for permitting us to have this ceremony in this very impressive museum. As President and Director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, you are doing a tremendous job. You are a real asset to the City and the Nation.
Ms. Bridges, Mr. Marshall, and to all of our guests, welcome to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. It gives me great pleasure to once again welcome the National Black Prosecutors Association to Washington for its 17th Annual Convention.
Ladies and Gentleman, forty years ago a young girl stepped through a crowd and walked into history. It was something so seemingly simple - a six year old girl walking to class on her first day of school. And yet, those short steps by a small girl were in reality a giant leap forward for this nation. Indeed, that day was historic as that small child, Miss Ruby Bridges, stepped over and through centuries of discrimination. Each stride carried her, and thousands who would follow her, to new and better opportunities. Her brave act gave many a sense of equality, and it brought into reality what had long been promised but never delivered.
That school day in November of 1960 was unlike any other. Although my small children clutched my hand and walked next to ME on their first day of school, as countless other children have done with their parents over the years, on that autumn day 40 years ago, Ruby Bridges walked, paradoxically, both terribly alone and yet surrounded by multitudes, not next to her parents but next to United States Marshals. And thus, the William Frantz Elementary school in New Orleans became the site where the message of the Constitution and the promise of the Declaration of Independence finally became something real to everyone. On that day, the messenger, the promise keeper, was a brave, bold, gallant and silent six year old girl, simply walking into a school.
The historic events of that day served as a repudiation of the status quo and a validation of what we all knew. Namely, that separation inherently means inequality, that division suggests inferiority, and that the courage of one can overcome the discrimination of many.
We are as fortunate for the bravery of Ruby Bridges as we are for the courage of so many. I cannot help but be reminded of the thousands of trailblazers, like her, who took the first dangerous steps for freedom. Women like Septima Clark who at 60 years old began teaching illiterate adults in the hopes of making them first time voters. Men like William Moore, who was killed on a highway in Alabama as he wore a sign emblazoned "End Segregation in America". And my sister-in-law, Vivian Malone, who helped to desegregate the University of Alabama in spite of Governor George Wallace's opposition.
And I am reminded of our Movement's children. It was the Children's Miracle in Birmingham where hundreds of school children marched, endured water hoses, attack dogs and ultimate arrest in the hope, the mere hope, of ending discrimination. Children like Ruby Bridges.
For those who lived through those troubling yet inspiring days, the images, the sounds and spirit of that time will remain with us forever. Yet, there are few pictures which capture this courage, or frame the drama of that great struggle, better than Norman Rockwell's "The Problem We All Live With." In it, a young girl is dressed in white, standing erect, and yet she is so much lower and smaller than the strong arms of the men sworn to protect her. She passes the thrown objects, head held high, and withstands the invisible taunts. All the time, the observer of this picture cannot escape the fact that the objects she clutches in her small hands mean that she is simply on her way to school. This picture captured a historical moment, but at the same time it powerfully memorialized an entire Movement and those who fueled it. It is my hope that the courage and sacrifice of that day and the era in which it occurred will continue to inspire all of us. It is my prayer that the hope for a better tomorrow and the belief in the triumph of goodness symbolized in that picture will be the touchstone of all of our children.
Each and every day we ask the members of our country's law enforcement community to exemplify sacrifice, courage, duty and honor. I am proud to be a part of that tradition. And so, I can think of no greater tribute to the courage demonstrated by this little girl than to bestow upon her the Badge of Honor worn by the same men, those United States Marshals, who helped make that day triumphant.
Therefore, on this day, during the week of the 17th Annual National Black Prosecutors Convention and on the 40th Anniversary of her gallant walk, it is a high honor and great privilege to swear in Ms. Ruby Bridges as an honorary member of the U.S. Marshal's Service.
I am joined today by the Director of the U.S. Marshal's Service, Mr. John Marshall, who will assist me as she takes the oath. Ms. Bridges:
Ms. Bridges, on behalf of the Department of Justice, the law enforcement community and the National Black Prosecutors Convention, I simply want to say thank you.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming, and I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to the Corcoran Gallery of Art for their help and for being such gracious hosts. Please join me as we tour the exhibit.