“I learned a very valuable lesson, and it is that we should not ever look up at a person or judge them by the color of their skin, that’s the lesson I have learned in first grade.” ~ Bridges
In late 1960, a six year old girl stepped into the school where she attended her first grade all alone, this courageous black child paved the way for the integration of schools at the troubled times of New Orleans. Ruby Nell Bridges, now a civil right activist, was the one among six young Afro American children to be enrolled in to a integrate white school in the American South.
Born on September 8, 1954 in Trylertown, Mississippi, she was the eldest among eight siblings. Their family was poor and had a farm, for a better life they moved to New Orleans. Her father got the job as a service station attendant and her mother took night jobs to support the growing family. She being the eldest sister took care of the children and went to far away school, segregated for black children. Their lives changed with the new law passed in New Orleans, according to which blacks can attend the integrated school and segregation was abolished.
Bridges took the test amid the black students in order to be selected for the integrated school. Her father opposed it initially since he was afraid of inviting unnecessary trouble but her mother favored the decision for her daughters better future. Despite the test being difficult Ruby Bridges passed it and on November 16, 1960, escorted by four marshals and her mother she entered city’s William Frantz Elementary School. On her first day she sat in principals office as havoc was created by the white parents outside the school protesting against the blacks integration with whites. On the second day, she was in her new class all alone with a white teacher Mrs. Henry, who taught her for one year and a valuable bond was established between the two individuals.
“I couldn’t have gotten through that year without Mrs. Henry. Sitting next to her in our classroom, just the two of us, I was able to forget the world outside. She made school fun. We did everything together. I couldn’t go out in the schoolyard for recess, so right in that room we played games” ~ Ruby Bridges
Gradually the turmoil subsided and in second grade she was in the class among other white students. She got her first taste of racism in elementary school but under the guidance of child’s physicist Dr. Robert Coles and her mentor in grade one, Mrs. Henry she was able to cope with the hatred and eventually she kept on with her studies. She completed her grade school at William Frantz and graduated from the integrated Francis T. Nicholls High School, further she took her degree from business school in travel and tourism.
In 1984 she married Malcolm Hall in New Orleans and raised up a family of four kids. In 1993 her youngest brother died and she took care of his children. During that time she got back in touch with her Elementary School again as her brother’s kids went to that institute. Walking to that school opened the doors of the past, she was not able to fully comprehend the extent of racism in 1960. There she got her answer through the book written on her life story by Dr. Robert Coles in his time ‘The story of Ruby Bridges.‘ Soon, afterwards she was reunited with her teacher Mrs. Henry in The Oprah Winfrey Show.
After getting in touch with her past and realizing its importance Ruby Bridges became a parent liaison at Frantz School. She volunteered there as parent to bring the harmony among children. In 1999 she started Ruby Bridges Foundation , which is focused on bringing tolerance, unity and respect among different races through education. Its motto is
“Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.”
She talks in groups about her experiences regarding racism and education, people like to hear her as she has laid down the stepping stones of quality education for black community. Being a civil activist Bridges realizes her potential as a person who marked the history with a great change.