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