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Martha Layne Collins

March 26, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Political history, Research methods

My group and I are working on a web based project designed to honor Governor Martha Layne Collins’ contribution to the Civil Rights history of Kentucky. We are struggling to find footing with a thesis about Governor Collins, because a good portion of the information we are finding about her is in relation to her time as Governor of the state of Kentucky, which is after the time period we are looking at, from 1920 to 1970.

Also, people close to the former governor are extremely hesitant to speak about anything regarding Governor Collins, because of a scandal involving her husband after her governorship. We are not interested in what she did as a governor though, instead, we are looking for any information regarding the work she did to promote fair civil rights for all.

We are aware that she had a lot to do with education reform, due to her background as a teacher, but are having difficulty finding anything about her life before that, aside from the fact that she was in a lot of beauty pageants and a young adult and created an organization called the “Jaycettes”. WE had an interview set up with a family friend of Collins’ but said interview was later cancelled. Our next step is to go to the Woodford County Historical Society, where there is a file about Governor Collins during her time there. Hopefully while there we will be able to form a thesis about why Collins was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“Quiet” Determination

March 4, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Political history, Social history

In the years after World War II, protests began to invade society with calls for change among the African-American community. Peaceful demonstrations were common after being inspired by Gandhi’s pacifism in India. Sit-ins by young people became widespread among members of the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), in hopes of stirring change in the hearts of Kentucky legislators.

Most of the prominent activity of the 1940s and 50s were in the larger cities of Lexington and Louisville. Often times, demonstrations would be in front of or inside stores or restaurants refusing to cater to African-Americans. One such demonstration involved Audrey Grevious, a former president of the NAACP and member of the Lexington chapter of CORE. She and a group of NAACP and CORE members decided to have a sit-in at a restaurant. They had been sitting at the lunch counter for some days, when one day, the manager decided to chain off the area. While sitting on a stool, he swung the chain at Grevious’s leg. To keep herself from trying to “wring his neck”, Grevious began to sing, not realizing how much damage the man would be doing to her leg in years to come.

CORE members in protest

CORE members in protest

Youth and others working in menial jobs performed a lot of the protests. In fact, young people comprised most of the members in the NAACP and CORE. According to Mary Jones of Lexington, if “it had not been for the children, young people in this town, CORE would not have survived.” Often times, women workers would recruit their students to join them in protests. Helen Fisher Frye—who was president of the Danville NAACP and worked with youth at her church—would meet her students after school to have sit-ins at the local drugstores.

Interestingly, smaller towns outside of city life handled segregation a little differently. In an account by Anna Beason, she describes how she and her friends had engaged in a sit-in unknowingly. They had gone in to a drugstore for sodas and were waiting for a long time, until the waitress finally served them. It was as if these smaller towns did not know how to handle segregation. Another instance was when George Esters and a group of his friends went to the white teen center to dance in Bowling Green. The next year, a teen center was built for African-American teens.

Out of all the women in this chapter of Freedom on the Border, Helen Fisher Frye seemed to be the most striking. Living in Danville, race relations were not severe, but she had a few white friends through church. Because of her Christian philosophy, Frye felt it important to have a place in politics, specifically through organizations such as the NAACP. In fact, Frye re-organized the Danville chapter of the NAACP and even worked to integrate public housing. Like Mae Street Kidd, she was a fearless woman who was not afraid to voice her opinions. Kidd would demand what she wanted and stand firm in her beliefs, as seen in the time when she was working for the Red Cross and did not want to travel to a humid location. In the same way, Frye threatened to drive away when the gas attendant left her to attend to a white customer. Through the leadership of these two women, much was accomplished for the advancement of African-Americans by making known their societal inequalities.

Sources

“Audrey Grevious.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.17 Feb. 2013. Web. 04. Mar. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audrey_Grevious

“Congress of Racial Equality.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 27. Feb. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_of_Racial_Equality

Fosl, Catherine, and Tracy Elaine. K’Meyer. Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print.

Jones, Reinette. “Helen Fisher Frye.” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database. University of Kentucky Libraries. 4 Mar. 2013. Web. https://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/record.php?note_id=764

Kidd, Mae Street, and Wade H. Hall. Passing for Black: The Life and Careers of Mae Street Kidd. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1997. Print.

“Mae Street Kidd.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 03 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mae_Street_Kidd

“Mohandas Ghandi.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 2 Mar. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohandas_Karamchand_Gandhi

“NAACP in Kentucky” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 2 Feb. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NAACP_in_Kentucky

Post WWII Protests by Women

March 4, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Political history, Social history

Mae Street Kidd

After WWII there was certainly a larger push for civil rights because as we were fighting for democracy and against genocide overseas, we began to more readily question our nation’s own race relations. Kentucky women that got involved in this process made huge contributions to the civil rights movement and also to the progression of this country’s views on prejudice. An example of this is opening public institutions to blacks as well as whites. An example of the injustices in an incident that was reported by Anne Braden, of Louisville, KY who witnessed two blacks who were seriously injured being dropped off outside a hospital that didn’t admit blacks and said “They let them lie there, on the waiting room floor and one of them died. There were a lot of incidents like that.” After this case and many others though, women, in this case Mary Agnes Barnett, worked to pass legislation to require public hospitals to provide emergency care to blacks. This eventually expanded to the voluntary treatment of blacks in hospitals in Kentucky.

Another example would be Mae Street Kidd, who worked in the time period, primarily in the Kentucky government as well, to provide fair housing to those in lower income brackets, which primarily encompassed blacks. Of course these are only two examples, but there are many women who also followed in these footsteps to increase equality for blacks after WWII. In both of these cases we see women who are fighting the status quo in order to build a more equal and fair community for all races. While here there was only mention of hospitals and housing, hundreds of other facilities were integrated more fully in this time. For example, theaters, restaurants and schools. Even today, with almost every public institution in Kentucky integrated, there are still pushes for more equal distribution of resources and equal opportunity.

****

“World War II.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. <http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii>.

“Genocide.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide>.

“Anne Braden.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Braden>.

“Mae Street Kidd.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mae_Street_Kidd>.

Fosl, Catherine, and Tracy Elaine. K’Meyer. Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print.

Kidd, Mae Street, and Wade H. Hall. Passing for Black: The Life and Careers of Mae Street Kidd. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1997. Print.

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African American Representation in Fayette County Publications

February 26, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Social history

Today, I found a copy of a book published by the Fayette County Board of Education in 1955 entitled: “Let’s Go To School”  (pdf link). A very brief book composed primarily of pictures, it appears to have been an informational resource for parents of students. There were several things I found interesting in this book.

The book begins with a quote:

“Your Board of Education believes in your child’s right.”

This book was published at a point in our education history when schools were still mostly segregated. Of over one hundred pictures, only a mere four show an African American student or teacher. I am including these here:

From "Let's Go to School", Fayette County Board of Education

From “Let’s Go to School”, Fayette County Board of Education

From "Let's Go to School", Fayette County Board of Education

From “Let’s Go to School”, Fayette County Board of Education

From "Let's Go to School", Fayette County Board of Education

From “Let’s Go to School”, Fayette County Board of Education

African American students are only shown under the heading of “Sports” and “Music”, and teachers are only shown within a group.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at the library, reading old newspapers and looking at any books and pamphlets I could find that even mentioned African American education in Lexington and Fayette County prior to the 1980s. In 1963, Lexington Schools were still segregated, while Fayette County schools were all integrated but for one exception, Douglass Elementary School, which housed 385 students.

Because Douglass School closed in 1971 following integration, there remains little to no information in one location about the school, which opened in 1929. However, after much digging, I was able to find a variety of pictures and newspaper articles about the school, and received a brief history of its changes over time  from an elementary school to a high school back to an elementary school from the superintendent’s office at Fayette County Public Schools .Now, I just have to put all the pieces together and try to complete a history so that in the future all of this information will be in one place.

Awareness of Black life apart from White life

February 26, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Economic history, Social history

The Maid Narratives

In the Maid Narratives there are a lot of reference to black life apart from white life and the barriers between race. As stated within the book, although there were definite ties between the white families and their black servants, there was certainly a distance that upheld the ideas of class within the home, which translated into the differences in society.

For me personally, this ties into my research about the West End Community Council. This organization was very prominent in the 1960’s and it worked towards open housing for blacks  all over, but especially in the south. The connection comes into play because even in cases where blacks could afford the same housing as whites, there was a lot of dissent when it came to them actually being able to purchase that housing. The Ku Klux Klan and other white segregationist groups would utilize scare tactics in order to prevent blacks from moving into the “white” neighborhoods. Another approach that was carried out was what is now deemed as “white flight” wherein white families would all move away when a black family moved into their neighborhood. All of these show that although blacks were finally finding small ways to move up in the world, in this case financially, there was this barrier that was being upheld by society to keep blacks and whites apart, even when the times were moving towards equality.

Referecnes:

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestic and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

“The Encyclopedia of Louisville.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://books.google.com/books?id=pXbYITw4ZesC>.

“Ku Klux Klan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ku_Klux_Klan>.

“White Flight.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_flight>.

Defying the Norms of Racial Etiquette

February 25, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Oral history, Social history

In the 1960s, there was an unspoken protocol as to how African-Americans should act around whites. As maids or “help”, African-Americans were segregated, to an extent, in the homes where they worked. They were often confined to the kitchen, entering and exiting only through the back door, and use of a separate toilet or none at all.

Despite the binding rules maids adhered to in the decades after slavery, these African-American women sometimes overstepped the boundaries. In an experience by Elise Talmage in The Maid Narratives, she told an account of one of the maids who ate lunch with her and her friends and would often come into the house through the front door. In another account, a man recounted when his father allowed their maid to sit in the family pew during his brother’s wedding. Though these two stories were of maids who were either unaware of the rules or were helped by their white family, in each case, the norms often created by whites were shattered. This is especially shown in the reactions of whites being “absolutely aghast” or “completely stricken” by the unusual events.

The Maid Narratives

The Maid Narratives

Although Audrey Grevious never worked as a maid, she also experienced segregation, but in the schools where she taught. Growing up, Grevious had not noticed the harsh effects of segregation, until she visited New York for a convention. The differences between New York—where there was more tolerance—and Lexington were made very clear in the treatment African-Americans received from whites.

As an educator, Grevious first decided to overstep the norms of segregation in the integration of the Kentucky Village in Lexington. At the time, the lunchroom was separated into two different dining rooms: one for whites and one for African-Americans. After about 6 months after joining the teaching staff in the late 1950s, Grevious decided to sit in the lunchroom designated for whites.  The reactions of the white workers were comparable to that of the whites who witnessed African-American maids defying the rules: they “threw their food in the trash can and on the floor […] and marched on out.”

Interestingly, looking at these two different stories of Grevious and the “help”, things did not change much in the treatment of African-Americans. Though they were no longer in subservient roles, African-Americans were still segregated in the workplace. The steps they took to defy the norms of racial etiquette were not in vain, however. Each bit of progress was but a stair in the walkway to equality.

Sources

Fosl, Catherine, and Tracy Elaine. K’Meyer. Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print.

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious. Web. 25 February 2013.

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

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Mae Street Kidd, Passing for Black

February 21, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history, Political history, Primary source, Social history

Passing for Black

The Life and Careers of Mae Street Kidd

Wade Hall

Mae Street Kidd was a determined, independent woman that defied the boundaries of race and ignored the restrictions of gender. To Mrs. Kidd, personal image was significant in presenting who you were and what you wanted to accomplish. She was a tireless force that allowed those around her to keep her motivated to do her best. She demanded the best from everyone, because that is what she gave of herself.

Career

Education: Lincoln Institute

From her first job at the age of 17, Mae Street Kidd took a stand and advertised her skills to the world, demanding that she be given a chance.

Mae worked at Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Company, which was one of the most popular insurance companies for African Americans of the time. She worked as a saleswoman, selling policies and collecting premiums. Promoted to file clerk, then continued up the ladder, becoming the supervisor of policy issues.

Kidd states in Passing for Black that it does not matter where she lived, as long as she likes her work.

Helped several different companies pioneer Public Relations departments, creating goodwill between the companies and their communities. She was among the first to develop the field of Public Relations, and the skills she gained would help her to later win elections.

Following her return from being stationed overseas with the Red Cross, Mammoth Insurance refused to allow her to take control of the Public Relations Department that she created. She was forced to return to an entry level position as a saleswoman. In this position, she sold more insurance than anyone else ever had.

“I’ve got too many guts in me to let you embarrass me. I will do the dirty job you give me better than anybody ever did it — and better than you ever dreamed I could” (Passing for Black p 51).

Retired in 1966 at the age of 62 before pursuing her political career.

Overall, Mae helped to build up many companies run by blacks for the black community. She helped to turn Mammoth Insurance into the large and profitable company it became, and helped many companies create relationships with their communities through Public Relations.

Social Impact

born to an absent father and a multiracial mother she was led into an ambiguous view of race (in herself and others) and also considered it irrelevant.In the midst of segregation and violence, Kidd’s childhood was presented as wonderful and peaceful (recounts going to hat and dress stores and being allowed to shop there even though her mother was black).

her father not being there created her independence from men which translated to her attitude in her two marriages: “I loved my husbands but I didn’t really need them.” This was obviously unique for the time.

appearance was very important; she was always considered very good-looking and made sure she looked put together at all times. Weird how appearance was so important yet she cared very little about race….She also believed that everyone should be treated the same regardless of gender or race. She was very proud (page 51).

She expected the best work from everyone around her just as she gave her best in everything she did.

Finally, although she respected others, she never let anyone around her allow her to feel inferior. Ex: when she told her brother’s superior officer to relocate him closer to her. or when she decided she wasn’t going to go somewhere hot for her overseas service. Or when she came back to her job at Mammoth and was replaced and she gave her boss a piece of her mind. Never was she intimidated by authority figures, white or otherwise.

“We’re gonna solve today’s problems by strengthening the family first.” page 148 Her interactions with her step-sister shows her encouraging words on acting like a lady.

Political Career

“Lady of the House” from 1968-1975. Served in Kentucky General Assembly in Frankfort as a representative from Louisville’s 41st district.

Reluctantly Joined the world of politics. First black woman in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Open Housing Bill: introduced in senate by Georgia Powers, prohibits discrimination by reason of race, color, religion or national origin in sale or rental of housing, gave Kentucky Human Rights commission power to enforce the law.

1970, bill passed to provide mortgage loans for low income people.

Ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, along with Georgia Powers in 1976. Most proud of this accomplishment. Same year as the Bicentennial- it was important to her that she was American above all else, regardless of race or gender.

Considers her political activities the capstone of her career.

“People are People”: How Political and Social Change Worked Together to Create a Naive Child of the 90’s

May 2, 2011 in 1960s-1970s, Social history

Delores Johnson Brown, along with sixteen others, was one of the first to enter Norview High School in 1959 after the school system had been shut down due to “Massive Resistance”.  It has been said that “[h]er courage…signaled the end of ‘Massive Resistance’ in Virginia and [was] another giant step toward dismantling the separate and unequal educational apartheid that existed in Virginia and throughout the South” (i)  While that is certainly true, perhaps another look, one not centered so heavily on the Civil Rights Movement itself, should be afforded.  (ii)

As a child of the 90’s, I grew up completely naïve to the implications race had once held.  Unfortunately, the elder members of my family were not so lucky.  Hearing their stories sheds light on the “normal” white view of the subject, something long overlooked as a product of political change instead of an important part of how change was accomplished.

In the 1920’s my father’s parents moved to Washington D.C. from rural Kentucky.  My grandfather was, at the time, a racist, but he, as my father is quick to point out, “mellowed out with age” and had “several” African-American friends before he died.  (iii)  Through his family (iv), my grandfather grew to accept members of other races as “friends”, something that, as stubborn as my grandfather was, could not have been accomplished otherwise.

Political change did not greatly affect my mother’s family as it came to racial relations either.  My grandmother was raised “that everyone was the same”, but she knows her “parents were ahead of their time”.  She was fortunate to avoid interaction with the “Massive Resistance” movement since her schools (in Norfolk, VA) were never shut down.  The high school she attended did not integrate until the year after she graduated.  However, her daughter, years later, who lived across the street from her elementary school (also in Norfolk, VA), was bussed to “an all colored school…because the school was not previously mixed like it was supposed to be”.  Political reform perhaps, but without having been “raised that everyone was created equal and the only thing different was the color of our skin” my mother would not have done so well in an all colored school or have been able to make friends there.

The picture, though different, was very-much the same for my stepmother in southern Maryland.  Her experience is similar to that of others, but is still worth noting.  She started school in the early 60’s, a school that was all white until her third-grade year.  Even then, the school only had “one lonely little girl” named Darnella who my stepmother was “fascinated by”.  Despite her parents being on the fence about segregation, she “would always try to share something with [Darnella]” to make the girl everyone teased because she wasn’t “a vanilla” feel better.  By the time she was in high school, “mixed groups, couples and friends” were becoming more acceptable and even expected—a social change mixed with the ever-noted political change.

The political change no doubt worked hand-in-hand with the social change.  Without one the other cannot exist, but without both it would be impossible for me, as a little girl in the 90’s, to have been as oblivious to how much race had meant before.

***** Notes *****

(i)  Winston, Bonnie V. “Massive Resistance.” Crisis 116.3 (2009): 28-34. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 April 2011.

(ii) This is not to say that the Civil Rights Movement was not critical to the improvement of conditions for African Americans.

(iii)  My grandmother, on the other hand, also from rural Kentucky, was “never heard [to] say anything against blacks”.  In fact, despite being a child of the segregated south, she still gets upset when anyone tries to say anything negative based upon race.

(iv)  Both his wife and his children.  My father (and I’m sure my grandfather’s other six children) had African American friends.  He even had someone he considered a good friend who dated “a black girl”, someone he “got along with” and would also consider a friend.  My father also cites that though there were “racial conflicts” there was “nothing bad…and if another school came to start trouble the white and black would stand together to stop any thing”.  Yet another product of social change.

(v)  Other than that which was cited from “Massive Resistance”, all information is derived (and some quoted) from personal interviews with my mother, father, stepmother, and both of my grandmothers.

James Meredith and The Battle of Ole’ Miss

April 20, 2011 in 1960s-1970s, Social history

On September 30th, 1962, 127 U.S. Marshals stood guard in front of the central administrative building on the campus of the University of Mississippi.  Armed with hand guns and tear gas grenade launchers they looked across the campus greens to a growing crowd of threatening, aggravated and hostile students. Alongside the students stood members of the Mississippi Highway patrol with order of their own that contradicted that of the increasingly overwhelmed Marshals. What was the reason for these battle lines being drawn? September 30th was the registration day for a man named James Meredith, the first black student to attend Mississippi University and a major step toward the end of segregation.

That day will be forever remembered in the timeline of segregation history not only for the fact that James Meredith did in fact register but also the battle that ensued due to it. In an act of defiance against federal law, Ross Barrett the governor of Mississippi at the time had ordered his patrolmen to stop the registration of Meredith. The U.S. Marshalls had received their orders from President John F. Kennedy who had also given them the order not to fire their lethal weapons. The mod steadily intensified until around 7p.m. the tension broke a full on riot transpired. From bricks to birdshot the U.S. Marshalls were pummeled and by the end of the night 79 were seriously injured. It took the implementation of the teargas which the Marshals had to wait for permission to use as bricks smashed into their helmets and the arrival of reinforcements in the form of the newly federalized Mississippi National Guard before the rioters and students could be restrained. The Marshals had succeeded in integrating the University of Mississippi.

From the severity of the battle over James Meredith two U.S. Marshals were commissioned to escort Meredith everywhere he went, making sure that no harm came to him while attending the university. That night would be one of the most brutal nights of resistance towards integration and there are many significant points in the story. The most important being James Meredith himself with the perseverance to continue his fight for higher education, even against a force that nearly overwhelmed federal troops. The second is that of the U.S. Marshals who, had if not stayed true to their orders to not use deadly force, even when they were being fired upon themselves, could have been part of a truly devastating and bloody battle.

The story of James Meredith and the U.S. Marshals that defended him, along with the testimonies of Robert F. Kennedy and many other that were involved can be found in the U.S. Marshals history archive. It is a wonderful source for understanding the battle of “Ole Miss” and the surrounding factors.

 

Source

http://www.usmarshals.gov/history/miss/02.htm

 

 

 

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The Astounding Life of Ruby Bridges

April 19, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s

Ruby Bridges

            Ruby Bridges was born in Tylertown, Mississippi on September 8, 1954. Ruby moved with her parents to New Orleans when she was four years old and at the age of six a phone call was receive by Ruby’s parents. The phone call was from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People wanting Ruby to take part in the integration of public schools in New Orleans. Ruby’s father opposed the idea strongly. However, her mother agreed that Ruby should go and gain the new experience because she realized the impact that Ruby attending an all white school could have on the future of African Americans. Ruby took her entrance exam in the spring of 1960 and was chosen to participate along with five others. Two of the six dropped out of the program and the other three were sent to McDonough Elementary, but Ruby was sent to William Frantz Elementary and was the only black child to attend the school.

            It was decided that Ruby would began school at William Frantz on November 14, 1960. That morning four United States federal court marshals arrived to pick Ruby up and take her to school. Ruby arrived to William Frantz to a humungous crowd of people chanting and throwing things. However, Ruby did not realize they were being aimed toward her. I found this picture in an article written by Chris Rose. The picture below is one of the most famous pictures ever to deal with the Civil Rights Movement. It shows Ruby being escorted into the school by the four marshals.[i] They say a picture is worth a thousand words right? Well this one speaks volumes about the cruelty of whites toward blacks during the Civil Rights Movement as well as the bravery of such a young child.

                                                                                                 “The Problem We All Live With”
                                                                                                    by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)

            Ruby was refused by all teachers except one, Mrs. Barbra Henry, and Mrs. Henry was excluded by the other teachers because she decided to have dealings with a black child. I cannot begin to imagine what courage it took for Mrs. Henry to stand up and take on the challenge of not only teaching Ruby, but knowing by taking on that challenge that she would be excluded and still took on helping Ruby develop her education.  Kaelin Ray, a student reporter for Current Events, interviewed Ruby on November 8, 2010 to remember the life changing event that Ruby’s first day of school had on her and many other African Americans. Below is the interview conducted in which Ruby Bridges speaks about her feelings, first day, and teacher, Mrs. Henry, which I found very interesting.

          “Kaelin Ray: How does it feel to know that youare a part of U.S. history?

          Ruby Bridges: I’m [very] proud of that fact. My

          mother was really happy about [my] being able

          to attend that school. My father was more concerned

          about my safety.

          KR: What was your first day at William Frantz

          Public School like?

          RB: My first day I spent sitting in the principal’s

          office, so it was very confusing.

          KR: What gave you the courage to go to school

          every day?

          RB: I wasn’t really afraid. … And I loved school.

          KR: How did your teacher, Barbara Henry, help

          you that year?

          RB: Mrs. Henry was one of the nicest teachers I

          ever had, and she made school fun for me.

          KR: What was it like to meet Mrs. Henry again,

          many years later?

          RB: I was really, really excited about meeting her

          again because she [was] a very important part of

          my life that had been missing for a long time.”[ii]

            The first year of Ruby’s integrated school year was over and many terrible things had happened. Her father lost his job, her grandparents, sharecroppers, who lived in Mississippi, was kicked off the land, and the Bridges family in general received death threats. However, the black community gave her father a job and helped the family through the harsh times.[iii] Robert Coles, Ruby’s psychiatrist at William Frantz, would meet with Ruby once a week and later on in his life he wrote a book called, The Story of Ruby Bridges.

            Ruby Bridges Hall still lives in New Orleans today and is the Chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation. The purpose of this foundation is to try and erase all forms of racism. Ruby had four sons and took on the challenge of her two nieces as she adopted them in 1993 where they attended William Frantz as well and Ruby began to work at the school as a volunteer. Ruby also received the Presidential Citizens medal and in 2006 a new elementary school was erected in honor of Ruby in Alameda, California. Also, in 2007 the Indianapolis Children’s Museum opened an exhibit commemorating the life of Ruby Bridges along with a few others.[iv] The legacy of Ruby Bridges is one of tremendous bravery and courage of such a young child facing such a big challenge fearless with all odds stacked against not only her, but her family and many other African Americans during the time. I feel that Bridges is an outstanding role model for all of us, black or white, to stand up without fear and take on the world and make a difference.      


[i] Rose, Chris. “Ruby Bridges’ long walk; An icon of New Orleans integration will witness another milestone 50 years later.” The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, January 19, 2009, National, p. 1.

[ii] “Building Bridges.” Current Events 110, no. 9 (November 8, 2010): 6. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 19, 2011).

[iv] Ibid.

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