Ruby Bridges: Leading the Way
Imagine you are six years old and in the first grade. Each day you are escorted to school by federal law officers charged with protecting you from angry mobs of people, many of them parents, who do not want you to attend school with their children. You are the only student in your class. In 1960, a young girl named Ruby Bridges
faced this almost every day of her first school year. All because her skin color was different than theirs.
Ruby Bridges was born in 1954, the same year the Supreme Court ruled “separate but equal” schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education
. Six years later, after failing to abide the Brown
decision, New Orleans schools were ordered by a federal court to desegregate. Ruby was chosen to be one of the first students to integrate the New Orleans schools after she passed an entrance exam to determine if she could contend at an all-white school. Ruby's father feared for her safety, while her mother wanted Ruby to have the same education as the white children, educational opportunities she and her husband never had.
On November 14, 1960, Ruby Bridges became the symbol for school desegregation
when she was one of the first African American children to integrate an elementary school in the South. She and her mother, Lucille, walked to William Frantz Elementary School, a few blocks from their home escorted by four U.S. marshals. They were met by screams of racial slurs and death threats. Parents pulled their children from the school to keep them from learning with a black child. Only one teacher, Barbara Henry, welcomed Ruby into her classroom, and Ruby came to consider Ms. Henry her best friend. Over the next weeks, a few white students returned to William Frantz, but they were still not be allowed to be in class with Ruby. For the rest of that year, Ruby was a class of one.
Ruby exhibited courage as she endured taunts and protests that year. One of the marshals assigned to protect her remarked how she never cried marching like a little soldier
going to school that first day. Norman Rockwell commemorated Ruby's bravery in the 1964 painting The Problem We All Live With
which became a classic image of the civil rights movement. The following year some white students returned to William Frantz, and more African American students enrolled. Ruby was no longer the only student, black or white, in her class.
After graduation from an integrated high school in New Orleans, Ruby became a travel agent, married and had a family. She continued her civil rights activism by telling her story to children and adults across the country. She founded the Ruby Bridges Foundation to create change through education by fighting racism and encouraging tolerance because, according to its motto "Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it."
Throughout the civil rights movement, children and youth, especially girls, played a role in securing equal access to education for African American students. Linda Brown, Barbara Johns
and members of the Little Rock Nine
, along with Ruby Bridges, are just a few names whose courage in the face of racial injustice at the school door we know. There are many more to be discovered by today's students. A Girl Stands at the Door
, a recent book by historian Rachel Devlin, brings light to these girls and young women who fought bravely for school integration.
Though Ruby Bridges' story happened 58 years ago, it remains relevant today as students are faced with racial discrimination and injustice. The spirit Ruby showed as she endured what no child should have to endure is a role model for your students. eLibrary
stands ready to help you and your students learn more about these courageous young civil rights pioneers through its Research Topics which provide a good introduction to the subject and highlight eLibrary's far-reaching resources.