Unwitting Child Revolutionary
You might recognize little Ruby Bridges from her depiction in this iconic Norman Rockwell painting, or you might even recognize her by name as the first black child to attend an all-white public school in the South.
Neither of these things tells her entire truth. Because truthfully, that day, Ruby didn’t desegregate anything.
When 6-year-old Ruby Bridges went to William J. Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans on November 14, 1960, she thought the rowdy crowd gathered nearby was there for Mardi Gras. In her innocence, she didn’t realize they were there because of her.
Ruby’s first day of school was spent in the principal’s office because no one else came to school that day. Ruby’s second day, a woman in the crowd threatened to poison her & federal marshals warned her to only eat food from home. By the end of the first week, Ruby’s school, which had an enrollment of almost 1,000 at the beginning of the year, had dwindled down to just three: Ruby and two white girls.
Ruby & her two schoolmates didn’t attend class or recess together, and only one teacher would even accept her as a student. Each of the girls were taught in a separate classroom, and although she could hear the others playing sometimes, Ruby wasn't allowed to join them. It wasn’t until her second year that Ruby attended a single class with another child.
Although public schools were desegregated on paper in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, many schools in the South technically remained segregated for much longer. In fact, the Texas Legislature fought integration until 1965 under threat of losing federal funds. My own school district in Beaumont, Texas didn’t fully integrate until court-ordered by the Justice Department in 1975, a task they were still trying to achieve through the 80s.
As for Ruby, she’s currently in the process of doing the work she was first sent to Frantz Elementary to do - she’s converting it into the Ruby Bridges School to “educate leaders for the 21st century who are committed to social justice, community service, equality, racial healing and nonviolence.”