Depending on how old you are, back in 1960 one of New Orleans’s all white public-school systems became integrated when 6-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first African American student to integrate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School. Greeted by an angry mob and escorted by federal marshals, Ruby bravely crossed the threshold of this school and into history single-handedly initiating the desegregation of New Orleans’ public schools. Being the only black student wasn’t easy for Ruby, she ate lunch alone and sometimes played with her teacher at recess, but she never missed a day of school that year.
Ruby Bridges was born on September 8, 1954 and was the oldest of five children. Her parents were farmers in Tylertown, Mississippi. Her parents were torn about whether to let her attend the all-white William Frantz Elementary School, a few blocks from their home. Her father resisted, fearing for his daughter’s safety; her mother, however, wanted Ruby to have the educational opportunities that her parents had been denied. Meanwhile, the school district dragged its feet, delaying her admittance until November 14. Two of the other students decided not to leave their school at all; the other three were sent to the all-white McDonough Elementary School.
Ruby and her mother were escorted by four federal marshals to the school every day that year. She walked past crowds screaming vicious slurs at her. Undeterred, she later said she only became frightened when she saw a woman holding a black baby doll in a coffin. She spent her first day in the principal’s office due to the chaos created as angry white parents pulled their children from school. Ardent segregationists withdrew their children permanently. Barbara Henry, a white Boston native, was the only teacher willing to accept Ruby, and all year, she was a class of one.
“Racism is a grown-up disease”. Let’s stop using our kids to spread the virus!