Black History Month -2019: Ruby Bridges’ First Day of School

First African American student to integrate an elementary school in the South

Ruby Bridges was 6 years old in 1960 when U.S. Marshals helped escort her as she integrated William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

Close your eyes and imagine being escorted into school by several armed white men. Imagine being 6 and all you want to do is learn but being told no. Imagine being called every horrible racial epithet and all you want to do is go to class.

Ruby Bridges was born in Tylertown, Mississippi in 1954. Remember, in 1954, the United States Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. A unanimous (9–0) decision stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

When Ruby was in kindergarten, she was one of many African-American students in New Orleans chosen to take a test on whether or not she could attend a white school. It is said the test was written to be especially difficult so that students would have a hard time passing. In 1960, Ruby’s parents were informed by the NAACP that she was one of only six African-American students to pass the test.

Federal marshals drove Ruby and her mother five blocks to her new school. When Ruby and the federal marshals arrived at the school, large crowds of people were gathered in front yelling and throwing objects. Recalling her first trip to her school, Ruby Bridges said, “I saw barricades and police officers and just people everywhere. And when I saw all of that, I immediately thought that it was Mardi Gras. I had no idea that they were here to keep me out of school.

The protests that were taking place outside of the school and nearly all the white parents were keeping their children home meant classes weren’t going to be held. Only one teacher, Barbara Henry, agreed to teach Ruby. She greeted her with open arms. For a year, Henry and Ruby were alone, side by side at two desks, working on Ruby’s lessons. Gradually, white families began to send their children back to school. The protests and civil disturbances subsided as the year school went on.

Ruby Bridges visited the White House to see a painting commemorating her historic milestone hanging on the wall outside of the Oval Office

Norman Rockwell’s painting depicts her walk to school on the day of school integration in New Orleans. President Barack Obama, Ruby Bridges, and representatives of the Norman Rockwell Museum view Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With,” hanging in a West Wing hallway near the Oval Office, July 15, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

She and her mother were escorted to school every day that year. Federal marshal Charles Burks, one of her escorts, commented with some pride that Ruby showed a lot of courage. “She never cried or whimpered. She just marched along like a little soldier,” Burks said.

Noticing a need for bringing parents back into the schools to take a more active role in their children’s education, Bridges formed The Ruby Bridges Foundation, in 1999. The foundation promotes the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences. The motto: Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.

The Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby’s walk to school on the day of school integration in New Orleans

Black History Month is a time when we all get to dig a little deeper. Learning is fun, and February is exceptionally awesome. There’s always little tidbits or iconic figures that I never heard of. As many of you know I like to focus on a certain topic for Black History Month. It helps me learn, and hopefully you as well. Last year’s topic was civil disobedience. For 2019, the topic that I’m going to focus on is: The Role of Black Women Played to Shape Our History. Thanks for reading and following. — Mark

Originally from NJ now living in MD. Just a guy with a smartphone looking to learn.