New mural evokes civil rights theme

Roxanne L. Scott

A new mural on Hunts Point Avenue is based on a Norman Rockwell painting famous for its civil rights theme.

Pedestrian crossing gets rendering of historic painting

Pedestrians on Hunts Point Avenue next to Bruckner Boulevard can now walk with a civil rights heroine by their side.

A multi-paneled mural depicting six-year-old Ruby Bridges’ historic walk to school in 1960 now adorns the wall of a bridge that crosses over the railroad tracks.  Bridges was the first black student allowed into an all-white school in New Orleans that year.

The mural is based on Norman Rockwell’s famous 1964 painting “The Problem We All Live With” which shows Ruby in a cute white dress and braided pigtails, being escorted to school by four federal marshals. The mural, however, shows Ruby walking alone.

“Someone has walked before you, and someone is walking with you. You’re not doing this by yourself,” said artist Sharon De La Cruz, who created the mural.

De La Cruz, 27, who was born and raised in Hunts Point, said she wanted to highlight the powerful role women played in the Civil Rights Movement.

“The movement needed a little girl like Ruby Bridges to integrate schools in the South, because no matter how intelligent she was, she was still a little girl; she was still fragile,” said De La Cruz.

In 1960, Bridges’ parents enrolled her in the elementary school in response to a request by the NAACP, which was fighting racial segregation in schools. Four federal marshals came to Ruby’s home to accompany her, although the school was only five blocks away.

White parents angered by the Bridges’ defiance pelted Ruby and her mother with thrown items and insults, and pulled their children out of the class Ruby was in.

Ruby didn’t get to see a classroom that day. Instead she spent the whole day in the school office.  The next day, only one teacher in the school agreed to teach her. For a year she sat in a classroom as the only student.

De La Cruz said she was intrigued by Rockwell’s decision to paint Ruby walking to school rather than alone in a classroom.

“There’s symbolization in walking,” she said. “The fact that you have to get up and keep going and head towards something that’s bigger than you.”

The bright colors of the mural in an otherwise dreary stretch of asphalt and highway now attract curious looks from passers-by.

“It encourages people to continue fighting. Maybe when things are hard it can show us to keep going,” said Saibo Touray, 19.

De La Cruz started her project with a sketch of Ruby walking away from Hunts Point, but later changed her mind.

“She’s walking into Hunts Point because this is where the beauty is,” she said.

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