White House Painting Puts N-Word Just Outside Oval Office

Civil rights-era Rockwell work is a quiet but stark statement on race from the first black president

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The White House's newly hung Norman Rockwell painting places one of the worst epithets in the English language just a few feet from the office where sits the first African-American president of the United States. In the painting, "The Problem We All Live With," Ruby Bridges, then a 6-year-old African-American girl in a white dress, walks with four adults past a wall bearing the scrawled N-word, the letters KKK, and a splattered tomato, on her way to a newly integrated school. Bridges told Politico's Josh Gerstein that she started lobbying President Barack Obama last year to hang the painting in the West Wing. Obama has taken a low-key approach to racial issues as president. As Gerstein reports, the painting "was a more private statement. Obama has never mentioned it in a speech or public event. And while White House aides confirmed that Obama approved bringing it to the West Wing, they declined to discuss how the decision was made or why." But even though he's generally quiet on racial issues, the painting isn't the only civil rights movement memento the president keeps around, Gerstein reported. "A small bust of King is in the Oval Office, and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation hangs on the wall." When Bridges stopped by to see the painting, he told her, "I think it’s 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."

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