Here’s the thing: there are so many iconic people in the Civil Rights movement that are etched in my brain that, sometimes, I forget they are not seared in everyone else’s. So during the month, I’m going to mention some folks you may have heard of, or possible not.
RUBY NELL BRIDGES, who turned 60 on September 8, 2014, was the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the American South. She attended William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, starting in 1960. Ruby appeared on the cover of LOOK magazine, a very popular publication in the day, portrayed in this iconic picture by Norman Rockwell entitled The Problem We All Live With.
She notes: “Though I did not know it then, nor would I come to realize it for many years, what transpired in the fall of 1960 in New Orleans would forever change my life and help shape a nation. When I think back on that time and all that has occurred since, I realize a lot has changed… I also know there is much MORE to be done… That fateful walk to school began a journey, and I have now developed a vision to continue moving forward.”
Ruby was born in Tylertown, MS, but her family moved to New Orleans when she was four. In response to a request from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), her parents volunteered her to participate in the integration of the New Orleans School system, Ruby passed the the test that determined whether or not she’d be allowed to attend William Frantz. Five other black kids also passed the test, but either decided to stay at their old school or transferred to another black school.
Ruby Bridges went to a school by herself; well, except for U.S. Marshals dispatched by President Eisenhower. As she described it, “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.” Former Marshal Charles Burks later recalled, “She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we’re all very very proud of her.”