September 8 – Happy Birthday, Ruby Bridges

Posted on September 8, 2015

And you know what? I think she knows what she is talking about. This is what Ruby Bridges looked like in 1960:

Are you thinking she is getting arrested? There seem to be several U.S. Marshals and other law-enforcement personnel surrounding her!

But those guys-in-suits-with-badges were there to protect little 6-year-old Ruby as she went to school.

Protect her from crowds of white people – mostly adults – throwing things and
shouting threats and offensive words.

Protect her from crowds of white people chanting “2-4-6-8, we don't want to integrate!”

Protect her from crowds of white people with signs saying that they want to keep their “clean white school.”

Protect her from scores of white mothers who rushed into the school, once she had gone inside, to fetch their children out.

Ruby Bridges made history by merely going to school – because she was the first black child to attend an all-white school in Louisiana.

Ruby was one of six black kids in New Orleans who passed a test to determine if they could go to an all-white school. Two of the kids decided to stay at their old school; three went to a school called McDonogh, and Ruby went – all by herself – to William Frantz Elementary School.

The U.S. Marshals were very proud of little Ruby. They said later that she was really courageous. She never cried or even whimpered. One of the marshals said that she marched along “like a little soldier.”

One of the most famous artists in the U.S., in the
1960s, was illustrator Norman Rockwell.

He made this well known painting of Ruby Bridges.
That first day, there was too much chaos from parents removing their kids from school for Ruby to go to class, so she and the U.S. Marshals spent the day sitting in the principal's office.

The second day, however, Ruby went to class. Still alone – it turns out that almost none of the teachers would teach her! Only one teacher, Barbara Henry, who was from Massachusetts, would agree to teach Ruby – and, since none of the white parents would allow their kids to attend that class, Henry taught ONLY Ruby.

That's right: teacher Barbara Henry had an entire classroom with just one student, Ruby, and she taught first grade just as if she had a normal-sized class! 

And this went on for the whole school year!

Ruby with Mrs. Henry
That second day of integration, one of the white parents broke through the lines of protestors to take his 5-year-old daughter into the school, and a few days later, more white parents took their kids into school. Soon the protests started to subside...but Ruby still faced ugliness as she walked to school.

For example, a white woman threatened to poison her. Every day! (The U.S. Marshals charged by President Eisenhower with protecting Ruby wouldn't let her eat any food at school other than what she brought from home. I'm not sure why they couldn't arrest the woman making threats!)

The thing that scared Ruby the most was a woman protestor who had put a black baby doll into a wooden coffin.

Now there is an elementary school
in California named Ruby Bridges!
Ruby's whole family suffered: her father lost his job, her grandparents were turned off of their land (they were sharecroppers), and even the grocery store they shopped at would no longer allow them to do so!

But Ruby Bridges remembers that many people in the community showed support - including, I am happy to say, many white people! One person provided her father with a new job, some people watched the Bridges house as protectors, some offered to babysit, and some showed up as a counter-protest, as Ruby went to school, to show that she was not alone.

People from outside of the community were supportive, too. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a note. People from all over the U.S. sent Ruby and her family gifts and money. Bridges later wrote, “The money made a big difference to my family, andit kept coming for months.” 

  • To learn more about Ruby Bridges' first year at the William Frantz school, check out this short video.
Ruby Bridges was born on this date in 1954 (just a bit more than a month before I was born!). Today Ruby Bridges still lives in New Orleans with her husband and four sons. She worked for many years as a travel agent, and she now runs a foundation dedicated to promoting tolerance, respect, and appreciation for all people.
Ruby Bridges today

Also on this date:

Poet Jack Prelutsky's birthday

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