To me, what might be as important of a figure in black American history nobody stands out more to me than Ruby Bridges.
Her bravery strength and sheer determination helped pave a way for all of us.
Bridges was the eldest of five children born to Abon and Lucille Bridges.
As a child, she spent much time taking care of her younger siblings, though she also enjoyed playing jump rope, softball and climbing trees.
When she was four years old, the family relocated from Tylertown, Mississippi, where Bridges was born, to New Orleans, Louisiana.
In 1960, when she was six years old, her parents responded to a request from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and volunteered her to participate in the integration of the New Orleans school system, even though her father was hesitant.
Before we go on. Let's talk about why the decision for her to go to a white school was so brave.
Bridges was born during the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. Brown v. Board of Education was decided three months and twenty-two days before Bridges' birth.
The court ruling declared that the establishment of separate public schools for white children, which black children were barred from attending, was unconstitutional; accordingly, black students were permitted attend such schools. Though the Brown v. Board of Education decision was finalized in 1954, southern states were extremely resistant to the decision that they must integrate within six years.
Many white people did not want schools to be integrated and, though it was a federal ruling, state governments were not doing their part in enforcing the new laws. In 1957, federal troops were ordered to Little Rock, Arkansas, to escort the Little Rock Nine students in combating violence that occurred as a result of the decision.
Bridges attended a segregated kindergarten in 1959. In early 1960, Bridges was one of six black children in New Orleans to pass the test that determined whether they could go to the all-white William Frantz Elementary School.(they purposely made the test harder, than the curriculum taught in hopes of no black childern would pass)
Two of the six decided to stay at their old school, Bridges went to Frantz by herself, and three children were transferred to McDonogh No. 19 and became known as the McDonogh Three. Bridges and her mother were escorted to school by four federal marshals during the first day that Bridges attended William Frantz Elementary. In the following days of that year, federal marshals continued to escort Bridges, though her mother stayed behind to take care of her younger siblings.
Bridges' father was initially reluctant, but her mother felt strongly that the move was needed not only to give her own daughter a better education, but to "take this step forward ... for all black children". Her mother finally convinced her father to let her go to the school.
Judge J. Skelly Wright's court order for the first day of integrated schools in New Orleans on Monday, November 14, 1960, was commemorated by Norman Rockwell in the painting, The Problem We All Live With (published in Look magazine on January 14, 1964). As Bridges describes it, "Driving up I could see the crowd, but living in New Orleans, I actually thought it was Mardi Gras.
There was a large crowd of people outside of the school. They were throwing things and shouting, and that sort of goes on in New Orleans at Mardi Gras."
Former United States Deputy Marshal Charles Burks later recalled, "She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn't whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we're all very very proud of her."
As soon as Bridges entered the school, white parents pulled their own children out; all the teachers except for one refused to teach while a black child was enrolled.
Only one person agreed to teach Bridges and that was Barbara Henry, from Boston, Massachusetts, and for over a year Henry taught her alone, "as if she were teaching a whole class."
That first day, Bridges and her mother spent the entire day in the principal's office; the chaos of the school prevented their moving to the classroom until the second day.
On the second day, however, a white student broke the boycott and entered the school when a 34-year-old Methodist minister, Lloyd Anderson Foreman, walked his five-year-old daughter Pam through the angry mob, saying, "I simply want the privilege of taking my child to school ..." A few days later, other white parents began bringing their children, and the protests began to subside.
Yet, still, Bridges remained the only child in her class, as she would until the following year.
Every morning, as Bridges walked to school, one woman would threaten to poison her, while another held up a black baby doll in a coffin; because of this, the U.S. Marshals dispatched by President Eisenhower, who were overseeing her safety, allowed Bridges to eat only the food that she brought from home.
Child psychiatrist Robert Coles volunteered to provide counseling to Bridges during her first year at Frantz. He met with her weekly in the Bridges home, later writing a children's book, The Story of Ruby Bridges, to acquaint other children with Bridges' story.
Coles donated the royalties from the sale of that book to the Ruby Bridges Foundation, to provide money for school supplies or other educational needs for impoverished New Orleans school children.
The Bridges family suffered for their decision to send her to William Frantz Elementary: her father lost his job as a gas station attendant; the grocery store the family shopped at would no longer let them shop there; her grandparents, who were sharecroppers in Mississippi, were turned off their land; and Abon and Lucille Bridges separated.
Bridges has noted that many others in the community, both black and white, showed support in a variety of ways. Some white families continued to send their children to Frantz despite the protests, a neighbor provided her father with a new job, and local people babysat, watched the house as protectors, and walked behind the federal marshals' car on the trips to school.
It was not until Bridges was an adult that she learned that the immaculate clothing she wore to school in those first weeks at Frantz was sent to her family by a relative of Coles. Bridges says her family could never have afforded the dresses, socks, and shoes that are documented in photographs of her escort by U.S. Marshals to and from the school.
Her story doesn't stop here.
Bridges, now Ruby Bridges Hall, still lives in New Orleans with her husband, Malcolm Hall, and their four sons.
After graduating from a desegregated high school, she worked as a travel agent for 15 years and later became a full-time parent.
She is now chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which she formed in 1999 to promote "the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences". Describing the mission of the group, she says, "racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it."
Like hundreds of thousands of others in the greater New Orleans area, Bridges lost her home (in Eastern New Orleans) to catastrophic flooding from the failure of the levee system during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hurricane Katrina also greatly damaged William Frantz Elementary School, and Bridges played a significant role in fighting for the school to remain open.
Still alive today, she has the most amazing honor of being the first black child to go to a white school, and meet the first black president of the United States of America.
The pain, and threats at the age of six she endured from grown ups full of hate has paved the way for so many successful black people today.
I for one am truly thankful, and honored to reward her scarfices by being someone who lived the dream her, and her bother envisioned could come from her sacrifices.
Most Helpful Opinions
I've heard about Ruby Bridges before but I didn't these details of her story. To me she is one of the people in the world who I would mention to define "bravery".
I'm not American but I'm also thankful to her because she changed so many lives at the age of 6.
There was a journalist from where I live who interviewed her and I truly wish I had the same honor. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story.
6 years old having grown ups throwing things at her, threatening to poison her, and yet she endured
That's true, she went through a lot. No child should go through that.
So true. It's why i honor her with this post.
I tried to honor sacrifice by getting a college education.
And chose to be a teacher in the grade she started attending a white school, to give children the opportunites she fought for.
That's the best thing you could do. It's a noble way of honoring her.