Birthday Wish Come True! 102-Year-Old Georgia Woman Who Served as a Nurse to MLK Jr. Meets the Civil Rights Icon’s Youngest Child, Bernice King

A northwest Atlanta retired nurse celebrated her 102nd birthday last month. One of the two gifts she said she wanted was to meet Bernice King.

During her celebration, the civil rights leader made sure that special wish came true.

102-year-old Georgia Woman Gets Birthday Wish
Clara Bridges celebrates her 102nd in northwest Atlanta on March 24, 2023. (Photo: Atlanta Housing/Twitter)

Retired pediatric nurse and Army veteran Clara Bridges had a big birthday on Friday, March 24. Friends and family members gathered in the Peachtree Senior Tower community room to give flowers to a woman that has served her nation and community for decades, according to WSBTV.

Bridges has lived in the apartment building for 47 years and has been like a mother to the entire community.

With over a century under her belt, she says she loves her life and asked during the celebration, “What do we do with this beautiful life? Where do we go with it?”

In a release about the occasion, Bridges answered why she believes she has lived such a long and interesting life. She attributes it to having “a closer walk with God.”

“I look back over my life, and I [often] ask myself, ‘Have I lived my life that was given to me to live? ‘Cause [it’s] a lot [of us] who [would] take someone else’s life and live,” she explained. “But I wanted mine.”

Affectionately called Mama Bridges, although she had no children of her own, she told her family members she would love to meet Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter, Bernice King, for her birthday. Bridges apparently met the Nobel Peace Prize winner who was eight years her junior at some point in their native Atlanta, and the CEO of the King Center and civil rights leader in her own respect carved out time from her busy schedule to attend the party.

“Whenever somebody this age calls, God’s speaking,” Bernice King said in a statement. “I hope we don’t take this moment for granted or lightly.” King added on Twitter that she was “excited to honor her request and to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her.”

It was a treat for King also. A fellow Aries, she celebrated her 60th birthday days after Mama Bridges on Tuesday, March 28.

In addition to running the King Center, Bernice King is a lawyer, global thought leader, orator, peace advocate, and preacher. She has worked to preserve her father and mother, Coretta Scott King’s legacy of “Kingian Nonviolence,” a term which she rebranded to “Nonviolence365™️” during her over a decade-long tenure as the head of The King Center.

Video shows Mama Bridges’ eyes lighting up when Bernice King walked into the room decorated with balloons and a fancy white chair fit for a queen.

“I’m here to honor her,” King said.

“It meant everything to me just to see her smile. It’s a smile to me, and I know he’s just laughing up there,”  Bernice King continued, reflecting on how her father might be reacting to this meeting.

In addition to speaking briefly to her about the occasion, King joined the gathering in fêting Mama Bridges, who was dolled up in a silver fascinator and silvery blue dress.

As an Atlantan, Bridges most likely watched from a distance as Martin Luther King’s career blossomed. As an Atlanta University Center alumna, graduating from Clark College just a few years before King graduated from Morehouse College at 19 in 1948. She would have also seen him serve at Ebenezer Baptist Church as a co-pastor with his father, Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., known as “Daddy King” in 1960.

Bridges joined the U.S. Army during the closing years of World War II and later served honorably on four military installations. She may have felt supported by King when he spoke out against the Vietnam War because of its disproportionate drafting of Black, Brown, and poor people in the mid-1960s.

King blasted the government in 1965, saying, “millions of dollars can be spent every day to hold troops in South Vietnam and our country cannot protect the rights of Negroes in Selma.” 

She also would have mourned with the entire world when he was assassinated in 1968.

Like King, Mama Bridges also made history and is a part of the desegregation story of Atlanta, now considered one of the most progressive cities for Black people in America. In 1976, she was the first Black person to integrate Peachtree Senior Towers when she retired at 33 years of working as a nurse.

Mama Bridges’ second wish was to have a chili dog from local fast food icon The Varsity restaurant on Atlanta’s North Avenue.

After the party, that’s exactly what her family got her for dinner.

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