Happy Black History Month! This is the 17th blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known Black Americans who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).
The focus of today’s blog is Ruby Bridges, the first Black student to attend a desegregated school in the South.
This is her story.
Before Making History at Age 6
According to womenshistory.org, Ruby Bridges was born in Mississippi in September of 1954 as the oldest of five children. During the same year, the Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas decision ended racial segregation in public schools. Although born in Mississippi, Bridges and her family moved to New Orleans, Lousiana when Bridges was 2 years old for better job opportunities. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, southern states including Louisiana kept resisting desegregation. Bridges attended a segregated school for kindergarten in 1959.
Making History at Age 6
One year later, a federal court ordered Louisiana to desegregate. School officials then created entrance exams for entering Black students to take. Bridges and five other children passed the exam for William Frantz Elementary School, which was only a few blocks from Bridges’ home. Her father was hesitant about sending her to the school, but her mother wanted Bridges to have the educational opportunities that she never did. With her mother and four federal marshals walking with her every day to school, six-year-old Ruby became the first Black student to attend a desegregated school.
Discrimination and Intimidation
While some neighborhood families showed their support for the Bridges family, others protested. Abon Bridges, Ruby’s father, lost his job. Some supermarkets wouldn’t sell their merchandise to Lucille, Ruby’s mother. Their grandparents were evicted from their farm where they had worked as share-croppers for over 25 years. Even just walking to school every day, six-year-old Ruby experienced hearing many slurs and intimidation from angry locals.
Setting a Bright Future
Despite this, Bridges never missed one day of school during her first year at a desegregated school. She went on to graduate from a desegregated high school and become a travel agent. Because of her and her family’s bravery, many Black students from then on were able to enroll at her elementary school, including Ruby’s own four nieces. Since then, Bridges has written two books on her experience and has been honored with the Carter G. Woodson Book Award. In 1999, she also set up The Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote equality in education. Read more about Ruby Bridges here.
Read another article from the “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know” blog series here.