This summer, the iconic artwork has found a temporary home — in the West Wing of the White House, just outside the Oval Office. The road to the White House began in 2008, with a suggestion from Bridges herself. After a lobbying campaign by members of Congress and others, the painting arrived in June.
The White House declined to speak about the painting, but offers this thought in its blog: “The President likes pictures that tell a story and this painting fits that bill. Norman Rockwell was a longtime supporter of the goals of equality and tolerance. In his early career, editorial policies governed the placement of minorities in his illustrations (restricting them to service industry positions only). However, in 1963 Rockwell confronted the issue of prejudice head-on with this, one of his most powerful paintings.”
On July 15, Bridges visited the White House to see how the historic painting looked, freshly hung. A video released by the White House shows President Obama and Bridges standing in front of the painting.
“I think it is fair to say that if it hadn’t been for you guys, I might not be here and we might not be looking at this together,” Obama tells Bridges.
The painting’s journey to the White House began around the time of Obama’s inauguration. Bridges had been invited to the event by her close friend, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).
“I spent some time before President Obama was sworn in thinking about the handful of individuals who should be there on the historic occasion of having the first African American president,” Landrieu said in an interview. “I knew her story my whole life. It dawned on me that she should be invited.”
During their conversations, Bridges mentioned the painting and her desire to have it hang in the White House, Landrieu said. “I remember her telling me, ‘I have the portrait. Do you think we can hang it in the White House?’ ”
On the day of the inauguration, Bridges brought a print with her. “We were so excited, but in the midst of all the added security,” Landrieu said, “we couldn’t get it through the door of the White House.”
After Bridges’s initial conversations with Landrieu, other politicians, faith groups and board members from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., began lobbying the White House, suggesting the painting be displayed there to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bridges’s walk to integrate the New Orleans school.