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African Figurines Beheaded, Iconic Ruby Bridges Poster Damaged in Black Woman’s Department of Education Office in Washington

African art figurines were found beheaded with their limbs detached in a Black government worker’s Washington office in what some employees worry was a racially-motivated incident.

The reported vandalism, which also included damage to a school desegregation poster, happened Tuesday afternoon in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, workers told NBC News.

The poster, which was pulled off a wall, seemed to depict Ruby Bridges, a civil rights activist known for being the first Black child to integrate an elementary school in Louisiana in 1960 at New Orleans’ William Frantz Elementary School.

Young Ruby Bridges on school steps
A 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, who would go on to become a civil rights activist, is shown leaving school while protected by federal marshals after her first day of classes in New Orleans’ William Frantz Elementary School on Nov. 14, 1960. (Photo: WikiMedia Commons)

The office belongs to a Black woman designated a “diversity change agent,” which is an Education Department position tasked with providing diversity and inclusion training to department staff members, NBC News reported.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who oversees the Department, confirmed the incident through spokeswoman Angela Morabito.

“We can confirm there was an incident involving an employee’s personal belongings on the third floor,” Morabito said. “Secretary DeVos took immediate action, including referring the case to Federal Protective Services for a comprehensive investigation, increasing building security, and most importantly, ensuring the impacted employee was supported.”

Frank Brogan, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, called the vandalism on his floor “an unfortunate incident” in an internal email NBC News obtained:

“This cowardly action is intolerable and unacceptable,” he said.

Some workers are looking for copies of the Bridges poster to put up in a show of solidarity, they told NBC News.

“I don’t know if it was targeted, but it sure does feel like it,” an unnamed employee said. “To pick one room and to go in and destroy it like that.”

Another employee told NBC News leading department officials were not forthcoming about the incident and appeared to be “keeping this under wraps.”

“I could not believe that something like this happened,” a department employee told NBC News. “This should be a place that’s safe for all of us.”

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