Clementine Bridges, 106, matriarch
CLEMENTINE Bridges could never forget the horrors of racism that she experienced growing up on a plantation in Georgia. The constant threat of night riders coming over the hill to punish black people who dared to threaten white supremacy by such outrages as learning to read and write.
CLEMENTINE Bridges could never forget the horrors of racism that she experienced growing up on a plantation in Georgia.
The constant threat of night riders coming over the hill to punish black people who dared to threaten white supremacy by such outrages as learning to read and write.
She saw her father dragged out of their house, tied to a tree and whipped.
She saw two of her childhood friends hanged while they were playing a game of hide-n-seek.
She saw the bodies of men she knew pulled out of a river, their faces smashed.
She was in her 80s when she told her family, "If I live to be 100, I'll never forget."
She lived to be 106. And she never forgot.
Clementine Bridges, a fiercely independent woman whose strength in the face of terrible adversity inspired all who knew her, died Nov. 23. She lived in West Oak Lane.
She not only taught by example, she could grab you by the scruff of your neck to make a point.
"Did you vote?" she would demand of the young people in her neighborhood. She grew up in an era when black people were denied the right to vote so she cherished it. She herself voted in every election well into her 100s.
"Use your freedom," she would tell them. "I didn't have the freedom to walk where I wanted, go to a movie, or anything else."
She taught her grandchildren how to conduct themselves in society, how to dress, how to eat, wash, cook. "She taught the girls how to be a lady," said her son, Arthur Mitchell "Pete" Bridges.
He said he was always astounded at his mother's memory. She had almost total recall of her life in rural Dawson, Ga.
"When she was in her 100s, she could remember things that happened to her when she was 3," he said.
Her parents had been born into slavery, but life after emancipation wasn't much better for the blacks trapped in the life of drudgery on the white-owned farms.
As a child, she worked from dawn to dusk in the cotton fields. The family walked three miles to church every Sunday over dirt roads where passing cars or wagons kicked dirt on their Sunday clothes.
Her stoical mother, who had been born a slave and lived to be 105, would brush herself off and walk on.
Clementine inherited her mother's feistiness. Her mother once threatened to burn the farm owner's cotton fields if he didn't pay her money he owed her.
"People would tell her she was crazy," Pete said. "They would say, 'Don't you know what they do to us?' "
Clementine was just as independent. When she played with a white girl, she was supposed to call her "Miss." She refused.
"She would talk back," her son said. "She said they could chase her but they couldn't catch her. She was fast on her feet."
Clementine was infuriated when she saw her father beaten. "She told him, 'I'll get them for doing that to you,' but he calmed her down," Pete said. "She said you never forget something like that."
She and a couple of friends went into the woods to play hide-n-seek one day. When she removed the blindfold, she turned around and saw her playmates hanging from trees.
"When she saw the pictures of what Emmett Till looked like after he was beaten and killed, she said she saw the same faces on the men they pulled out of the river," Pete said. "They had probably dared to look at a white woman or something."
Clementine was born to Roxy and Matthew Ried. After leaving Georgia, she lived for a time in Roanoke, Va., where she had a brief, unsuccessful marriage.
She arrived in Philadelphia in 1930 and later met Frank Bridges. They married in 1937. Her husband, who also grew up on a farm in Georgia, had dreams of being a doctor.
He graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, but couldn't get into medical school. He wound up supervising the cleaning crew at the old Girard Trust Bank, at 15th and Market streets.
However, Frank had acquired enough medical knowledge that he treated his children through their childhoods. He died in 1968.
Two other sons, Matthew and Frank Jr., died of cancer within about 30 days of each other in 1995.
"I loved my two boys," Clementine said, "but they're gone. They knew I loved them, but I'm ready to live," Pete quoted her as saying.
"That did something to me," he said. "She had unbelievable strength."
When Daily News columnist Elmer Smith interviewed her for a radio broadcast on the occasion of her 100th birthday, he asked her to what she owed her long life."
"I gave myself to God and I trust in him," she replied.
She was a devoted member of the National Temple Church of the Living God for 70 years where she sang in the choirs.
"She would leave for church at 11 a.m. and not come back till sometimes as late as 11," Pete said. "She'd spend the whole day in church and she would feel real good."
Abraham Lincoln might have freed the slaves, but Bill Clinton was her favorite president. "He was her boy," her son said. She was thrilled when she received congratulations from him for reaching 100 years.
In recent years, she began to tire easily and she was worried about being a burden on her family. "She would raise her hands up to the sky and ask God to take her," Pete said. "It was an honor to have had her for so many years. She gave so much to everybody."
She also is survived by 12 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, 11 great-great-grandchildren and three great-great-great-grandchildren. Another son, William, was never part of the family and is presumed to be dead.
Services: 11 a.m. at the National Temple Church of the Living God, 58th and Thompson streets. Friends may call at 10 a.m. Burial will be in Merion Memorial Park, Bala-Cynwyd. *