Black Activists - Ruby Bridges
"Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it." – Ruby Bridges
Ruby Bridges was born on September 8, 1954, in Tylertown, Mississippi. Ruby Bridges is best known as the little girl who was portrayed in the Norman Rockwell painting,The Problem We All Live With. In the painting there is a little Black girl dressed all in white walking to school with US Marshalls accompanying her. When Ruby Bridges was 6 years old she was the first African American child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. Ruby Bridges parents volunteered Ruby to participate in the integration of the New Orleans School system.
Ruby Bridges parents and grandparents were sharecroppers in Mississippi and Ruby grew up on the farm. By the age of four Bridges’ family moved to New Orleans in search of a better life. The New Orleans School system devised an extremely difficult test for African American children to take to be able to attend white schools. The test was made difficult so that the school system could stay segregated. However several students passed the test and were eligible to attend white schools. Bridges was one of those children chosen to be the first to attend integrated schools. Bridges was the only one assigned to William Frantz Elementary School which was right down the street from where she lived.
Ruby Bridges was an activist from a young age. Bridges was born the same year as the Supreme Court’s decision on Brown v. Board of Education which makes her experience even more amazing. Being the first to attend integrated schools was quite a feat for such a young girl. Even after Bridges passed the test it took some time for her to start at her new school. There were stall tactics made by the State of Louisiana when all of these were exhausted Ruby was able to attend her new school. But there were precautions to take and so Bridges was escorted on her first day of school by Federal Marshals. Ruby and her family had to endure a great deal of adversity the first year Ruby attended school. Many people protested against Ruby and her family. Ruby’s father was fired from his job and her grandparents were sent off the land that they sharecropped. Some parents pulled their white children from the school and some teachers refused to teach at a school where there was a black child. But along with the bad there were some good people who were behind Bridges and her family. A new teacher had to be sent in to teach Ruby alone in a classroom. A psychiatrist offered his services to Ruby for free and met with her once a week for the first year. A few families in the community watched out for the Bridges family and supported them through their ordeal. After the first year things slowly started to get back to normal and Bridges was no longer an oddity.
Ruby Bridges still lives in New Orleans. Bridges worked as a travel agent and then became a full-time parent. Ruby Bridges formed the Ruby Bridges Foundation which promotes the values of tolerance, respect and appreciation of all differences. Bridges seeks to end racism and prejudice with her Foundation. More recently after the death of her brother Bridges took on the responsibility of taking care of her nieces and in so doing has returned to her elementary school as a parent volunteer.
Ruby Bridges was a brave little girl who helped to make changes in our educational system. Bridges has received many awards and accolades in her honor. There have been books, songs, movies and of course the legendary painting by Norman Rockwell done about her life and her one moment in time when she walked bravely with the Federal Marshals to attend Elementary School.