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