Ruby Bridges says her 6-year-old self isn't healed. Here's why 'she keeps pushing' (2024)

Ruby Bridges says she told a little lie en route to her TODAY appearance earlier this year.

“On the plane, everybody’s standing up, got their bag and this lady says, ‘Are you Ruby Bridges?’ And I looked at her and I said, ‘No,'” she tells

Through a fit of laughter, Bridges says, “And then she said, ‘Oh, because you look so much like her.’ I felt so bad when I walked out of the plane. But I was like, I am not opening up this, not right here."

It just wasn’t the time and place,” she continues. “That was going to open the door for more questions.”

That may not have been the moment for Bridges to speak about her legacy — but her sit-down interview with is.

Bridges’ legacy as a civil rights activist began when she was 6 years old and helped desegregate William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960. Bridges, escorted by federal marshals and her mother, passed picket lines as she walked into the building each day. Blocks away, Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost desegregated the nearby McDonogh 19 Elementary School and passed similar crowds of protestors. In doing so, they were an instrumental part of integrating the school system at large, and creating an example for the rest of the country.

Their enrollment took place six years after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, which found that segregating public school children based on their race was unconstitutional. The decisive strikedown of “separate but equal” schooling occurred months before Bridges was born.

In the six decades since, students across the country have written letters to Bridges. She’s compiled some of the letters, and her responses, in her new book, “Dear Ruby: Hear Our Hearts.” She is also author of several other books that tell her story.

Part of her lingering trauma, Bridges says, is that racism is ongoing. 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. The white students who did remain were kept away from her by the principal, who worked overtime to keep them apart, Bridges tells Bridges’ teacher, Barbara Henry, came from Boston specifically for the job (Bridges has previously said that some of the school’s white teachers had quit, not wanting to teach Black students). By the time her second year began, Bridges no longer needed government escorts, and was part of a classroom with other children. But her legacy remained due to media attention and the striking images of Bridges, alone.

For her historical and contemporary efforts to put Brown v. Board of Education into practice and desegregate an elementary school, and for her continued fight toward equity since then, Bridges received the Presidential Citizen Medal in 2001 from former President Bill Clinton. She is also a 2024 inductee into the National Womens Hall of Fame.

The now-69-year-old recalls to the moment she “knew” protests outside of Frantz were against her and the memories that resurface while reading letters from students.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Ruby Bridges says her 6-year-old self isn't healed. Here's why 'she keeps pushing' (2024)


What is Ruby Bridges' famous quote? ›

Ruby Bridges Quotes

One famous quote by Ruby Bridges was from a speech given at the dedication of her new Ruby Bridges Foundation ceremony. She said, "Racism is a grownup disease. Let's stop using kids to spread it."

What issue did Ruby Bridges fight for as a child? ›

Ruby Nell Bridges Hall is an American Hero. She was the first African American child to desegregate William Frantz Elementary School. At six years old, Ruby's bravery helped pave the way for Civil Rights action in the American South.

What was the life lesson learned from Ruby Bridges? ›

Learning that you can never judge anyone from the outside was the first lesson of that tumultuous year. A second was that we must all “become brothers and sisters.” “We must absolutely take care of one another. It does take a village, but we have to be a village first.

What did Ruby Bridges say in her speech? ›

“Don't wait until…you come face to face with evil to learn this lesson,” Bridges said, “We all have a common enemy and it is evil. I refuse to believe there is more evil out there than good. There's more good. We just have to stand up.”

Was Ruby Bridges polite? ›

There were no other children to keep Ruby company, to play with and learn with, to eat lunch with. But every day, Ruby went into the classroom with a big smile on her face, ready to get down to the business of learning. “She was polite and she worked well at her desk,” Mrs. Henry said.

What happened to Ruby Bridges at the age of 6? ›

On November 14, 1960, at the age of six, Ruby became the very first African American child to attend the all-white public William Frantz Elementary School. Ruby and her Mother were escorted by federal marshals to the school. When they arrived, two marshals walked in front of Ruby, and two behind her.

Who was protecting Ruby Bridges? ›

The Children's Museum Remembers Former U.S. Marshal Charles Burks, Who Protected 6-Year-Old Ruby Bridges. “I wish there were enough marshals to walk with every child as they face hatred and racism, and to support and encourage them the way these federal marshals did for me,” said Ruby Bridges, Civil Rights icon.

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.

What hardships 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.

What words describe Ruby Bridges? ›

I heard that Ruby was kind, smart, proud, quiet, but most of all brave. Thank you, Mrs. Greene, for the invitation and such a great idea. Ruby loves her new classroom.

What was Ruby Bridges passionate about? ›

Bridges graduated from a desegregated high school, became a travel agent, married, and had four sons. A lifelong activist for racial equality, she established the Ruby Bridges Foundation in 1999 to promote tolerance and create change through education.

What is Ruby Bridges' fav food? ›

For dinner, they ate New Orleans or Southern food like red beans and rice. Sometimes, they had fried catfish or shrimp for dinner. Ruby's favorite desserts were banana pudding and sweet potato pie.

What did Ruby Bridges like to do as a child? ›

Early life

Bridges was the eldest of five children born to Abon and Lucille Bridges. As a child, she spent much time taking care of her younger siblings, though she also enjoyed playing jump rope and softball and climbing trees.

What was Ruby Bridges' real name? ›

Ruby Nell Bridges was born on September 8, 1954, in Tylertown, Mississippi. She grew up on the farm her parents and grandparents sharecropped in Mississippi.

What was Ruby Bridges motivation? ›

A lifelong activist for racial equality, in 1999, Ruby established The Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote tolerance and create change through education.

What was 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 go to school alone? ›

The white parents all withdrew their children from the school, and the staff refused to teach Bridges, except for one teacher: Barbara Henry, who had come from Boston. For the first year, Henry taught Bridges alone, just the two of them in the classroom.

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