When we think about the African American Civil Rights Movement, we often think about Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks, often forgetting that there were many unsung heroes. One of these was six-year-old Ruby Bridges who was the first African American child to integrate an all-white elementary school in the deep South in America.
Ruby was born in Mississippi. In hopes of a better life, her parents decided to move to New Orleands when she was just 4 years old. When Ruby was in kindergarten, African American kids were asked to take a test to determine if they could attend an all-white elementary school. It is said that the test was made especially difficult to keep the schools segregated. However, Ruby, alongside five other kids, was able to pass this test. Ruby’s father was initially reluctant to send Ruby to an all-white school. But he was later convinced by Ruby’s mother who felt strongly that this decision was not only to give their daughter a better education but to “take this step forward … for all African-American children.”
Ruby lived only five blocks away from her new school. But when the morning of the first day of school came on 14 November 1960, she had to be driven by four federal marshals. It was explained to her and her mother that while entering the school, two marshals would walk in front of Ruby and two behind. Although this was not enough to prevent chaos. Ruby and the marshals had to spend the entire day in the principal’s office. Seeing Ruby enter the school, parents had taken their children away and all teachers except one had refused to teach her. For the rest of the year, Ruby was taught everything by one teacher; Barbara Henry.
On the second day of school, Ruby was able to enter the classroom. However there was a boycott outside the school. Later she revelead how she saw this protest as a six-year-old. She said: “Driving up I could see the crowd, but living in New Orleans, I actually thought it was Mardi Gras. There was a large crowd of people outside of the school. They were throwing things and shouting, and that sort of goes on in New Orleans at Mardi Gras.”
A few days later, other white parents began bringing their children, and the protests began to subside. However, every morning on her way to school, Ruby was threatened by one woman to poison her. Due her threats, the U.S. Marshals only allowed her to eat food that she brought from home.
The Bridges family also suffered for their decision to send Ruby to an all-white elementary school; her father lost his job, shops would refuse to serve them, and her grandparents were turned off their land. But the family also received support from both black and white people. A neighbor provided her father with a new job, and local people babysat, watched the house as protectors, and walked behind the federal marshals’ car on the trips to school.
In the midst of this chaos, little Ruby graduated and continued to a desegregated high school. Later, she came together with her first teacher Barbara Henry to share their experiences with the public. Ruby also wrote two books about her experiences and established The Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote tolerance and create change through education.
Source: Rare Historical Photos