Ruby Bridges

Does the name sound familiar? Do you remember the story of the little black girl who went to an all-white school and she had to walk through protests on the way to school every day? Let me enlighten you.


Born on September 8, 1954 in Mississippi to Lucille and Abon Bridges, Ruby Bridges would make history as the first African American student to integrate an elementary school in the South. Born in to poverty and the oldest of five children, she and her family would move to New Orleans in 1959.

The ruling of Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas would end racial segregation in public schools. However, southern states would continue to resist integration well in to the 21st century. The last school to desegregate was Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Mississippi in 2016.

In 1960, a federal court ordered Louisiana to desegregate. The school district the Bridges family was living in created entrance exams for African American students to see whether they could compete academically with their Caucasian counterparts.

That year, Ruby was one of only six students to pass the exam. She was the only one that would be attending the all-white school of William Frantz Elementary School. Her father had opposed to her attending an all-white school, but her mother was able to convince him to let her enroll.

Her first day of school was November 14, 1960. However, her first day was spent sitting in the principal’s office while white parents were withdrawing their children from the school. The next day, she was able to start her schooling in a class size of one with the only teacher in the whole school who was willing to teach her, Barbara Henry, a white Boston native. She ate lunch alone and played at recess alone, but never missed a day of school that year.

During this time, Ruby was seeing a child psychologist, Robert Coles, who studied the reaction of young children toward extreme stress or crisis. In 1995, he would write a children’s book called The Story of ruby Bridges.

Due to the amount of upset white people that protested Ruby’s enrollment in the school, she was assigned four federal marshals that would escort her and her mother to school every day that year. Every day, she would walk past crowds of white people screaming vicious slurs at her. Later in life, she said that the only time she was frightened was when she saw a woman holding a black baby doll in a coffin. The marshals would urge her to keep her eyes forward so she wouldn’t see the racist remarks on signs or the livid faces of the crowd.

The Bridges family suffered for their courage. Her father, Abon, lost his job and grocery stores would refuse to sell to her mother, Lucille. Even her grandparents were evicted from the farm where they had lived for a quarter-century.

The crowds outside the school would begin to thin toward the end of the year and by the following year the school enrolled several more black students. Many years later, her nieces would also attend William Frantz Elementary School.

“The Problem We All Face” (1963) Norman Rockwell

During Ruby’s second year at William Frantz Elementary, she no longer needed to be escorted by federal marshals. She walked to school on her own & was in a classroom with other students. Ruby had paved the way for other African American children.

Ruby would go on to graduate from a desegregated high school, become a travel agent, get married, and have four sons. In 1999, she established the Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote tolerance and create change through education. She would also write a couple of books including a children’s book called Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story (2009).

Today, at 67-year-old Ruby Bridges continues to be an activist in racial equality. There are two schools named after her, and there is a statue at William Frantz Elementary School dedicated to her. She was a symbol of the civil rights movement in her youth and now she is actively fighting for racial equality. She is a pillar of where the United States of America has come from and where it could go on to in the future.


References

National Women’s History Museum
Ruby Bridges
Hilbert College
Britannica

Sundown Towns

Sundown towns are cities or towns that are all-white on purpose. They use informal and formal means to keep African Americans or other people of color out of the city.

The name derives from the posted and verbal warnings issued to Blacks that although they might be allowed to work or travel in a community during the daytime, they must leave by sundown or risk threats, injury, and maybe even death.

African Americans were not the only minority group to be prohibited in sundown towns, it affected Jews, Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, and others.

History

Sundown towns didn’t exist before the Civil War, but precedents existed for the exclusion of free African Americans. Predominantly existing between 1890 and 1968, thousands of towns across the US drove out their black populations or took steps to forbid African Americans from living in them.

As early as 1843, Arkansas denied free African Americans entry into the state and in 1859, Arkansas required such persons to leave the state by January 1, 1860 or be sold in to slavery.

White mobs would actively attack black prisoners, dragging them from their prison cells. These actions would cause the black community to flee in fear of their own lives, often leaving their belongings behind.

Or the white mobs would actively go through the black neighborhoods, tie men to trees and whip them, burn several homes, and warn all African Americans to leave that night.

In 1930, the lynching of 2 black teens by a white mob in Marion, Indiana resulted in the town’s 200 black residents moving away never to return.

Recent History

Most sundown towns exist from the Mid-West to the West in many predominantly white communities. Even California had sundown towns, Glendale being one until as late as the 1990s.

A city that is less than 2% African American may indicate that there may have been a history of sundown town laws.

Black motorists have to be extra cautious when traveling long distances. Some towns and cities may not be very welcoming to them on their travels and they may find some businesses and hotels won’t service them. Even to this day.

Can you imagine being in a town and fearing for your life? You have to leave town before the sunsets or you’re no longer safe and welcome there. Most women today can relate to this sentiment. Not every city is safe for all Americans and that’s a terrifying thought.


References

Encyclopedia of Arkansas
FOX LA
Black Past

Other Information

BuzzFeed News

Henrietta Lacks

Our next topic of discussion is the immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. Specifically about tissue samples that were taken without her consent in 1951 and how they have advanced medical research for us today. A story of consent and righting a medical wrong.

Henrietta Lacks (born Loretta Pleasant) was born on August 1, 1920 in Roanoke, VA. She married David Lacks in 1941 and in the ten years they were married, they had five children. Their family lived in Baltimore, Maryland.

In January 1951, Henrietta went to the John Hopkins Hospital, one of the only medical facilities in the area that treated African Americans, for vaginal bleeding and abdominal pain. She was reported saying she felt like there was a knot in her womb. While in the hospital, Dr. Howard Jones, a gynecologist, discovered a large malignant tumor on Henrietta’s cervix.

Henrietta underwent radium treatments, the standard of the day, which involved stitching glass tubes of radium secured in fabric pouches to the cervix. During the procedure, the doctor took a couple tissue samples without Henrietta’s knowledge or consent, which at the time was an okay practice.

These tissue samples were sent to a lab run by physician George Gey, who was studying cancer tissue samples. Usually tissue samples didn’t last for a long duration of time, they normally deteriorated before significant tests could be run. However, not only had Henrietta’s cells survived the first day, they had nearly doubled within 24 hours. This meant that Henrietta’s cells were virtually immortal. They could survive on their own and duplicate every 20 to 24 hours.

Her cells were nicknamed HeLa cells for the first two letters of her first name and last name. Her cells went on to be used in medical and scientific research all over the world. They were even used to help the development of the polio and COVID-19 vaccines. There are over 10,000 patents are registered involving her cells.

The tragedy is that Henrietta Lacks died on October 4, 1951 after a couple months in the John Hopkins Hospital. Her autopsy showed that the cancer had spread to her entire body. Her legacy lives on in the cells that were taken and used in the medical field.

For almost twenty years, her family didn’t know of the existence of the HeLa cells until a batch of them were contaminated by other samples and the children of Henrietta were getting phone calls about giving blood samples for further research. Her family found out that not only were the cells taken without anyone’s knowledge or consent, but they were being shared all around the world, along with Henrietta’s personal information.

There was no compensation to the family for the use of the cells. I’m not even sure if that was exactly an issue for them other than the fact that these cells from their dead mother were just treated as a scientific commodity. As if they didn’t come from a living, breathing human with a family and a love for cooking.

To learn more about Henrietta Lacks and the legacy she left behind, there is a book called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. There is a film based on Skloot’s book by the same name on HBO Max if you have access.


Henrietta Lacks Foundation

The Henrietta Lacks Foundation was established in 2010 by Rebecca Skloot and seeks to provide assistance to individuals and their families who have been directly impacted by research studies that were conducted on individuals without their knowledge or consent.


References

Biography
Britannica
Hopkins Medicine
Nature

Season Three: Episode Four

FEBRUARY 6, 2022

Happy Black History Month!

Something a little different for a journey update this week. I have mixed feelings on Black History Month. I don’t think we should relegate African American history to only one month. We shouldn’t highlight black history and black businesses and just general blackness to one month. It should be celebrated every day of the year. Black history is American history and we should all know this history.

I saw a TikTok a while ago that was upset about how our education system doesn’t tell all of the United States of America’s history, the good AND the bad. Always focusing on the history as if there are winners all the time in this country. Trying to erase all of the bad. The TikTok user had issued a challenge, the American History Challenge.

In it, she challenges you to research the topics, learn about it, and share it with others. So I’m going to take this month to learn about America’s history and share it with you. Feel free to do your own research and I would love some suggestions on things you think I should research and learn more about. I will create a new page just for the American History Challenge.


As an update on myself though, I am doing a challenge for myself this month. I am going to read every day this month and I will only drink water this month. The water drinking is a little hard because I’ve been having sugar cravings off the wall, but if I ignore them and just keep drinking water, they go away.

This year I decided to get back in to bullet journals. January’s layout sucked. So for February I decided to change it up. I love the appointment book style planner so I can keep track of times easier so I incorporated that. I’ve also added a ton of habit trackers that I didn’t have in January and I’m trying it out in February to see if I’ll continue them on. I’m keeping track of how much water I drink and how much rice I eat. I’m also tracking if I eat breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, as well as how many steps I’m taking and if I’m doing my facial routine.

It’s a lot more fun to do than January’s spread that’s for sure. I’m still very bad at taking my blood sugar though. I haven’t taken it in quite some time. But I’m trying to figure out my habits so I can make changes to them.

I’m still waiting for my insurance cards to come in so I can set up an appointment with my endocrinologist. I have an appointment with my foot doctor tomorrow. I have a eye appointments coming up in the next couple of months and a dentist appointment in April. I’ve gotta call my PCP to schedule my next appointment to refill my prescriptions and birth control. Our healthcare system seriously sucks. Hopefully I’ll be able to get insulin again. Fingers crossed.