40 Years After, Ruby Bridges Fights On (2024)

U.S.

By CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

/ CBS

Her name was Ruby Bridges, she was six years old, and as she walked up the stairs to school on November 14, 1960, she had no idea she was making history.

She thought the crowds were there because it was Mardi Gras, and she was going to college.

What she didn't know was that rioting had broken out in the streets of New Orleans, and that enraged parents were pulling their children from the school. Other parents took their children away out of fear.

These days Bridges embodies that rare educational commodity known as living history.

The vibrant 46-year-old travels the country, embraced by educators who want their students to meet the woman who inspired the likes of writer John Steinbeck and painter Norman Rockwell.

It's a sharp contrast from 40 years ago, when she had to be escorted to school by federal marshals.

She was the first black child to attend the all-white William Frantz Public School in New Orleans, and the hostility and tumult that defined her first day there made it a national story.

She told CBS News Early Show Anchor Bryant Gumbel: "There were lots of people outside. There were policemen. They were throwing things. Since I wasn't told, I really thought I was in the midst of Mardi Gras."

Bridges was bombarded with jeering — even death threats — from parents who hauled their children out of class, leaving young Ruby nearly alone in school.

"I went through the door, and I remember going into an empty classroom and thinking that I was too early. When actually, what had happened all the parents rushed in, removed their kids and never sent them back. I spent the whole year in an empty classroom with just my teacher," she says.

The white students eventually returned to the school that year, and other blacks arrived in following years.

"At one point I remember going into a classroom with some other kids and a little boy saying, 'I can't play with you. My mom said not to play with you because you're a nigg*r.' And that's when I really realized it was about me, and the color of my skin."

Bridges added, "I never knew what was going on until that little boy said that to me."

The bitterness from those traumatic school days lingered for more than three decades, she said, hindering her ability to appreciate her place in the fight to desegregate the South.

"From age 7 to about 37, I had a normal life and not a very easy one," Bridges told the Associated Press. She never went to college and as a young mother worked in a travel agency to help support her children.

Today, she has published two books and taken on a nationwide lecturing schedule, all within the last six years.

"What I'm doing now I developed simply because I felt like this was much too important to just let die," she said. "It was a great sacrifice my parents made. I understand now because I'm a parent that it would take a lot of courage and faith to send a child into an evironment like that."

Bridges, a married mother of four children, blocked out the harsh memories of her elementary school days until the early 1990s, when her brother's murder in New Orleans drove her to deep personal reflection.

"I felt like there was something I needed to do — speaking to kids and sharing my story with them and helping them understand racism has no place in the minds and hearts of children," she said while at home in New Orleans last week.

She started by volunteering as a parental liaison at William Frantz, where her brother's children attended school.

In 1995, Bridges collaborated with Harvard University psychologist Robert Cole in publishing The Story of Ruby Bridges, a picture book for children. Its success helped her establish the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which began at William Frantz and now offers consulting to other schools seeking to establish diversity programs.

40 Years After, Ruby Bridges Fights On (1)

AP

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
Last year, she published Through My Eyes, an account of her first year at William Frantz. It includes reproduced news photographs and articles, a passage from Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, and a print of the Rockwell painting. Rockwell portrays Bridges walking to school in a white dress and white shoes, dwarfed by U.S. marshals.

In the past year, New Orleans schools Superintendent Alphonse Davis has designated Through My Eyes part of an elementary reading program.

"She's still a very young lady who made history and that's something we should capitalize on by telling our students that they can make a difference as this lady did," Davis said.

Bridges' recent travels have been punctuated by stops at grammar schools in cities, suburbs and the countryside, where she tells young schoolchildren about her early experiences at William Frantz.

"I am amazed kids are so interested, but I think they see themselves as that little 6-year-old and cannot understand why something like this would have happened," she said.

In her hometown, the four decades that have passed since her historic walk have produce mixed results. There is again very little diversity at William Frantz, only now the school and the neighborhood are almost exclusively black. Public schools around New Orleans, in fact, are predominantly black, while most white children attend private schools.

Bridges won't try to explain it, but seems saddened by it.

"Schools should be diverse if we are to get past racial differences," she said. "If kids have the oportunity to come together to get to know one another they can judge for themselves who they want their friends to be. All children should have that choice. We as adults shouldn't make those choices for children. That's how racism starts."

40 Years After, Ruby Bridges Fights On (2024)

FAQs

40 Years After, Ruby Bridges Fights On? ›

The vibrant 46-year-old travels the country, embraced by educators who want their students to meet the woman who inspired the likes of writer John Steinbeck and painter Norman Rockwell. It's a sharp contrast from 40 years ago, when she had to be escorted to school by federal marshals.

What did Ruby Bridges do in 1995? ›

In September 1995, Bridges and Robert Coles were awarded honorary degrees from Connecticut College and appeared together in public for the first time to accept the awards. Bridges' Through My Eyes won the Carter G. Woodson Book Award in 2000.

What happened when Ruby Bridges was 4 years old? ›

When she was four years old, her family moved to New Orleans. Two years later a test was given to the city's African American schoolchildren to determine which students could enter all-white schools. Bridges passed the test and was selected for enrollment at the city's William Frantz Elementary School.

What was Ruby Bridges biggest challenge in life? ›

Ruby faced blatant racism every day while entering the school. Many parents kept their children at home. People outside the school threw objects, police set up barricades. She was threatened and even “greeted" by a woman displaying a black doll in a wooden coffin.

What did Ruby Bridges do in 1958? ›

Her parents worked as sharecroppers then when she was four they moved to New Orleans in 1958. One year later Ruby began kindergarten at Johnson Lockett Elementary, a segregated school.

What did Ruby Bridges do in 1959? ›

Ruby first attended a segregated kindergarten in 1959. The following year a federal court ordered Louisiana to desegregate. Ruby's school district created entrance exams for African American students. These exams determined whether African American students could compete academically at an all-white school.

Who is Ruby Bridges 4th son? ›

Answer and Explanation: Following her marriage to Malcolm Hall, Ruby Bridges had four sons. Her sons are named Sean Hall, Christopher Hall, and Craig Hall, as well as a fourth, publicly unnamed son. Bridges son Craig Hall was killed in a street shooting in New Orleans in 2005.

How to contact Ruby Bridges? ›

Ruby wants to hear from you!

To connect with the Ruby Bridges Foundation, you can email walktoschoolday@rubybridges.foundation.

What is Ruby Bridges' favorite color? ›

The museum provides virtual museum tours and programs. Learn more about Ruby Bridges and her work by visiting the Ruby Bridges Foundation. Wear purple! It's Ruby's favorite color.

Did Ruby Bridges get married? ›

Ruby graduated from a desegregated high school, became a travel agent, married and had four sons.

What did Ruby Bridges face? ›

Ruby's journey to school was fraught with adversity, as she braved a gauntlet of angry protesters who spewed hateful insults and threats. Her steadfastness and determination in the face of such hostility marked a significant milestone in the fight against racial segregation in education.

Who is Ruby Bridges married to? ›

Ruby Bridges got married to Malcolm Hall and had four sons. In 1993, her brother was shot and killed in New Orleans. Ruby's family went to New Orleans to take care of his daughters. In 1999, she wrote a children's book, "Through My Eyes", telling her story and what she went through.

What did Ruby Bridges establish in 1999? ›

In 1999, she founded the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which promotes student tolerance, respect, and unity. The foundation's mission is to provide educational resources, foster dialogue, and celebrate diversity in schools.

What did Ruby Bridges do when she was 6? ›

At the tender age of six, Ruby Bridges advanced the cause of civil rights in November 1960 when she became the first African American student to integrate an elementary school in the South.

Did Ruby Bridges go to school alone? ›

Bridges says she sees her 6-year-old self enduring a lonely and confusing year in the children's letters. After walking past mobs of protesters, Bridges attended classes alone — and did so for the full year. Some white families permanently withdrew their children from the school because Bridges was a student there.

What year did Ruby Bridges graduate? ›

Ruby Bridges was six when she integrated William Frantz Elementary School as a first grader for the 1960-61 school year. That means she would have graduated high school during the 1971-72 school year.

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