Ruby Bridges: The problem that she lived with


Lojuanda Weary

Sample caption, Lojuandas Mardi Gras toon will be added tomorrow morning before this story is scheduled to publish

It was Nov. 14, 1960 when an African American 6-year-old girl named Ruby Bridges was set to start first grade at an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. Every day for that year, Bridges was escorted by U.S. Marshals and was met with angry crowds yelling racial slurs and threats. White parents began to remove their children from her class and all but one teacher wanted to teach her.

Despite these hardships, Bridges persevered, and soon the crowds thinned and the school had enrolled more black students. At such a young age, Bridges had become a leading figure of the fight for desegregation of schools in the south and an inspiring figure of the civil rights movement.

Even though Bridges was born just a few months after the Brown v. Board of Education decision established segregation in public schools unconstitutional, southern states were particularly hesitant to the integration of African American students into their schools.

Facing pressure from the federal government, the Orleans Parish School Board administered an entrance exam designed to be too difficult for Black students and thus kept them from being integrated into all-white schools.

After attending a segregated kindergarten, Bridges had passed the entrance exam by the Orleans Parish School Board along with five other Black children. With two of the five children staying at their old school and the other three going to a different school, Bridges had attended William Frantz Elementary School as the only Black child.

During her stay at William Frantz Elementary School, Bridge’s family had faced retaliation from their community. The grocery store at which her family frequently shopped had refused to serve them, and her father Abon had lost his job as a gas station attendant and, soon after, Bridges’ parents divorced. Even her grandparents who were sharecroppers were kicked off of their land.

However, some people of both races in their community had helped her family through these difficult times. People watched and protected her family’s house, babysat her sisters, and a neighbor even helped her father find a new job.

Through her perseverance, Bridges inspired other Black children, and soon, they too began to enroll in all-white schools across the south. Bridges was the subject for American painter Norman Rockwell’s famous painting, “The Problem We All Live With” published during the Civil Rights Movement.

Bridges is now a civil rights advocate and formed The Ruby Bridges Foundation in 1999 to promote “the values of tolerance, respect and appreciation of all differences,” according to the mission statement.

At the turn of the century, she won many awards and honors from organizations and colleges across the nation, including awards from both President Clinton and President Obama during their terms in the White House.