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Obituary: Florence Bridges / Longtime activist for black causes

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

By Ervin Dyer, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Florence Bridges, a raspy-voiced East Liberty community activist who was a party to the 1986 lawsuit that led to election of City Council by districts, died Thursday of complications from a stroke. She was 74.

As secretary of the grass-roots Metropolitan Pittsburgh Crusade for Voters, she was a plaintiff in the lawsuit that challenged the city's at-large method of electing its council.

Mrs. Bridges and others believed a district system would ensure more black representation on council, a belief that has proved true.

The group's lawsuit eventually was settled after Pittsburgh voters approved a change to district elections starting in 1989.

In recent years, Mrs. Bridges suffered a stroke and was cared for at Heartland Health Care Center on Negley Avenue.

She was long involved in efforts to advance social justice and the causes of black people.

Mrs. Bridges was a member of Citizens Opposed to a Police State, a community group formed in the mid-1970s to address complaints of police brutality in black neighborhoods.

In 1993, she was among those calling for a federal investigation into the fatal police shooting of Maneia "Stoney" Bey. A coroner's jury recommended that no charges be filed against six officers who fired at Bey during a two-block foot chase in East Liberty.

In 1996, she opposed the NAACP holding its national convention in Pittsburgh because she believed that the city had a dismal record of minority hiring and didn't deserve it.

In 1995, she created the Florence Bridges Legal Scholarship. It gives money to third-year law school students, who, after gaining legal experience, agree to perform free legal research aimed at correcting injustices in Allegheny County. She asked that this year's scholarship be given in memory of Earlene Doss, one of her early mentors.

Mrs. Bridges was in community broadcasting for more than 20 years and had an unincorporated production company, Princess Productions. She independently produced several programs and was host of a weekly cable TV talk show "Wisdom Years."

Mrs. Bridges was born in Harlem in 1928. The family moved to Pittsburgh when she was 4, settling in the Hill District.

Mrs. Bridges went to Schenley High School and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, graduating with a degree in graphic arts in 1948. For years, she worked as a photographic colorist for different studios, where she hand-painted the blushes that gave film new life.

She is survived by a sister, Henrietta Taylor.

Though Mrs. Bridges never married, Melvin Hamilton was her life partner for more than 30 years.

Arrangements are being handled by Samuel E. Coston Funeral Home, 427 Lincoln Ave., East Liberty.

Ervin Dyer can be reached at edyer@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1410.

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