In 1960, a 6 year old girl, Ruby Bridges became the world symbol of the courage to learn amidst untold intimidation & hate. The US Supreme court had just ordered that all schools be desegregated in the US to allow black children & white ones study together. The American South, the heart of racial segregation could hear none of it.
New Orleans, where Ruby’s parents had settled from Mississipi decided on a plan to keep off the black youngsters & scuttle the court order. They decided to have very difficult entry examinations that black students couldn’t pass to frustrate their efforts to study with white students & the exam was only given to black students. Despite the painfully difficult exams, 6 black children passed, including Ruby.
The examinations body decided Ruby Bridges be admitted to the William Frantz Elementary school to begin her nursery studies. The community, teachers of the school & pupils would hear none of it. When Ruby reported for her first day in nursery school, there were violent riots & people threw objects at her. The following day all parents withdrew their children from the school. All the teachers also withdrew from the school saying they couldn’t teach a black kid. *Except one brave teacher Barbara Henry.*
Realizing that the US State of New Orleans wanted to disobey a court order requiring them to admit black children, President Dwight Eisenhower ordered that Ruby must attend school & sent Federal Marshalls to escort Ruby daily to school. Little did he know, the US soldiers would escort the young 6 year old girl for a record 1 year.
As she went to school daily, escorted by US Soldiers, large crowds of adults & their children gathered by the road side who abused her, threw objects at her. *One woman who cooked at the school threatened to poison her.* The Marshalls decided she must now eat at her own home. *A woman in the crowd daily showed her the image of a black doll in a wooden coffin as they spat on her.* *Locals shops refused to sell anything to her parents.* They were turned away from every shop they went. Then the girl started having stress & would wake her mother in the middle of the night seeking comfort. The hate was too much for her to bear.
For 1 year, US soldiers escorted the brave Ruby to William Frantz school where there were only 2 people, Teacher Barbara & 1 student Ruby. They sat side by side or facing each other. There was nobody else. President Eisenhower handed over power & the predicament of Ruby Bridges to President John Kennedy. After 1 year, with the parents & protesting teachers realizing Ruby & Presidents Eisenhower & Kennedy not flinching an inch, decided to return their children to school. Then the racist teachers returned. After a full 1 year. *Ruby Bridges had stoically fought racism as a 6 year old.*
As 1 of the soldiers who daily escorted her for 1 year Charles Burks would later say, “She never cried or whimpered, she just marched along like a little soldier.” Churks said guarding Ruby was the highlight of his career, the most important thing he ever did.
Ruby is now the chair of Ruby Bridges Foundation, which she formed in 1999 to promote “the values of tolerance, respect & appreciation of all differences.”
She was recently reunited with Barbara, the teacher who refused to go with the crowd & teach 1 pupil for 1 year & give her a future. Barbara still lives in New Orleans with her husband & children. In her memorable words ‘Racism is a grown up disease & we should stop using our kids to spread it”.
She lived to see a black man become president of the United States & was imvited to the White House where President Obama showed her a drawing of herself being escorted to school in 1960 engraved in the most powerful office on earth, immortalized for posterity.