Rev. Zebadee Bridges dies
24th June 2013 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
The Rev. Dr. Zebadee Bridges, one of the last surviving ministers who played a pivotal role in the historic Civil Rights Movement and the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, passed away on Monday, June 17, at his New Orleans home. He was 87.
Bridges, a native of Summit, Miss., came to New Orleans at the age of 19 and enrolled at Booker T. Washington High School. After graduating from Booker T. Washington, Bridges went on to earn bachelor’s, master’s and a doctorate decree in theology from Union Baptist Theological Seminary.
After serving as pastor of Asia Baptist Church in Gentilly for nearly 50 years, Rev. Bridges retired in 2006. During his tenure as pastor at Asia Baptist Church, the congregation grew from about 45 members to more than 750. Before taking on the role of pastor at Asia Baptist Church, Rev. Bridges served for five years as pastor of Community Baptist Church.
Rev. Bridges’ name was often mentioned in hushed tones by those in the civil rights community who recognized the work, commitment and bold leadership of Bridges and other activist ministers like the late Rev. A.L. Davis and the late Rev. Avery C. Alexander. After the passing of Davis and Alexander, Rev. Bridges took over the helm of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a socially and politically active, faith-based group that endorsed political candidates, fought for civil and voting rights and encouraged members of the faith community to become actively engaged in efforts to secure justice, equality and economy parity.
Bridges also served as a board member of the National Baptist Convention USA and took on leadership roles in Union Baptist College and Theological Seminary and United Way.
A living, breathing testament to the fact that faith without works is dead throughout his entire life, Rev. Bridges saw political activism and civil rights advocacy as a natural extension of his pastoral duties. He never shied away from a fight with the powers that be and didn’t hesitate to criticize Black political leaders who failed to meet the needs of the city’s Black community. Former Mayor Ray Nagin was one such target of Rev. Bridges’ criticism because of Nagin’s failure to ensure that Black businesses received a fair share of the city’s public contracts.
“Rev. Bridges was a tireless, selfless and relentless leader who spoke truth to power and never backed away from a righteous fight,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly. “In this age of compromised Black elected officials and ‘faith leaders’ who exhibit very little in the way of faith or leadership, Rev. Bridges was a giant among men. He was a quintessential man of faith, one of the contemporaries of great men and women of the cloth like the Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King, the Rev. A.L. Davis, the Rev. Avery C. Alexander, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy and the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell.
“He will definitely be missed,” Brown added. “He left some very big shoes to fill.”
“He had a strong passion for helping people, and he was a champion for those who were poor and underprivileged,” the Rev. Thomas Brown Jr., pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church, told nola.com. “He was a man of principles.”
“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Rev. Zebadee Bridges, Sr.,” U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond said Thursday. “During his 45 years of service as the pastor of The Asia Baptist Church and as a member of the Mayor’s Human Relations Committee, Reverend Bridges was a courageous leader and fierce advocate for all that was just and right. He was a man with a big heart for service to his God, his church, and his community. My thoughts and prayers are with Reverend Bridges’ family, his former parishioners and the many New Orleanians who were touched by his commitment to the advancement of this great city and its most vulnerable residents. Reverend Bridges will continue to be revered as a leader in our community. He will be sorely missed.”
“We are all saddened by the death of the Rev. Dr. Zebadee Bridges,” the Rev. Norwood Thompson Jr., president of the local affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, told The Louisiana Weekly Friday. “Rev. Bridges was a giant in our community. He was a giant minister in our community because he followed the tradition of our forefathers. He was a fearless civil rights worker.”
Thompson recalled accompanying Rev. Bridges on many trips and marches, including a march in Kokomo, Miss., after a Black man was found hanging from a tree and a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas to meet then-President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. He also recalled Bridges’ work mentoring and molding younger ministers in his role as trustee chairman of Union Baptist College and Theological Seminary.
“He dealt with a lot of old and young ministers’ lives,” Thompson said. “He helped lay a foundation in ministry in the city of New Orleans.”
Thompson on Friday laughed as he recalled lighter moments traveling and working with Rev. Bridges. “When we got together, we did have joyous times,” he said. “Rev. Bridges did have a sense of humor and we had many good outings.
“Rev. Bridges was always in charge,” Thompson added. “He was a stern man but he had compassion and reached out to everybody. Like most ministers I’ve met, he had a sense of humor but I am in awe of the leadership that he had. When it was time for business, it was time for business and he didn’t back down.”
Although Rev. Bridges is usually not mentioned in discussions of the founding of the SCLC in New Orleans, Thompson says he is fairly certain that a young Zebadee Bridges was among those at the Rev. A.L. Davis’ church on that fateful night in 1957.
“Rev. Bridges was right there in the midst of it,” Thompson said. “He might have been a little young, but he was right there in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Thompson said that the loss of Rev. Bridges and other courageous ministers have made it clear that it is time for the next generation of faith-based leaders to pick up the mantle and lead the fight for justice and equality in New Orleans.
“Dr. Bridges is truly going to be missed here in New Orleans,” Thompson, who counts himself among those mentored by Rev. Bridges, said. “He would confront the politicians, the business leaders, police chief — he didn’t care. He wanted them to do right by humanity.
“We have lost another chapter here in the city of New Orleans,” Thompson added. “With the passing of all our great leaders, it’s now incumbent upon the youth of New Orleans to pick up the baton. The older ministers have laid a great foundation — we just hope we can keep carrying on.
“We need there to be a re-awakening. With the passing of Dr. Bridges, I’m just praying that young leaders, particularly young ministers who love the Lord, will have a re-awakening to try to see how we can help curb the level of violence we see in our city and to speak up against any injustice that’s going on.”
The Rev. Dr. Zebadee Bridges is survived by his wife of nearly 65 years, Lorraine Bridges; three children, Zebadee Bridges Jr., of Marrero, Juliette Nichols of Los Angeles and Andra Bridges of Summit, Miss.;12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
He is also survived by a sister, Mamie B. Williams of Los Angeles, and a half-brother, J.P. Leonard of New Orleans.
Funeral services will be held Monday evening, June 24, at Asia Baptist Church, 1400 Sere Street, New Orleans, La. Visitation will begin at 4 p.m., with a funeral service at 7 p.m. On Tuesday, a funeral caravan will leave at 9 a.m. for internment services in Rev. Bridges’ hometown of Summit, Miss.
Estelle J. Williams Funeral Home is handling the funeral arrangements.
This article originally published in the June 24, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.