SPECIAL ON MLK PART 1 - Flipbook - Page 12
After a Federal court ordered the desegregation of schools in the South, U.S. marshals escorted Ruby
Bridges to and from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.
Ruby Bridges was born the same year as the Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In New Orleans, where
Bridges lived, reluctant school officials devised a test to screen out African American children from
attending white schools. While in kindergarten, Bridges took and passed the test, allowing her to attend the
all-white William Frantz Elementary School, a mere five blocks from her home. She would be the only
African American child there.
Fearing a possible backlash, U.S.
marshals were dispatched to New
Orleans to protect Bridges. On
September 14, 1960, she was escorted
to the Frantz School by four marshals.
She spent her first day in the principal’s
office as white parents took their children
out of school.
After days of heated debate, a
compromise was struck where the white
students would return to school. Ruby
would be isolated in a classroom on a
floor separated from the other students.
None of the teachers but one, Barbara
Henry, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, agreed to teach her. For the remainder of the year, Mrs. Henry
and Bridges would sit side-by-side going over lessons in the classroom. At recess, they would stay there to
play games or do calisthenics. At lunch, Bridges would remain in the room to eat alone.
Life wasn’t any better outside the classroom as the protests by white parents continued. One woman
threatened to poison Bridges and another put a Black baby doll in a coffin and left it outside the school. Her
father lost his job and her mother was banned from shopping at the local grocery store. After the first
semester, Bridges began having nightmares. She stopped eating her lunch until Mrs. Henry joined her. Dr.
Robert Coles, a child psychologist, volunteered to counsel Bridges during her first year at school.
Gradually, her confusion and fear were replaced with some level of normalcy. Occasionally, she was
allowed to visit some of her classmates and by her second year, she was attending classes with the other
Ruby attended integrated schools all the way through high school and went on to business school to
become a travel agent. In 1995, Dr. Coles published The Story of Ruby Bridges recounting his experience
with Ruby during that first year. Eventually, Ruby was reunited with Mrs. Henry on the Oprah Winfrey
Show and from there she formed the Ruby Bridges Foundation in New Orleans to promote the values of
tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences. Bridges’ experience as the first African American
student to integrate the South was immortalized in Norman Rockwell’s painting “A Problem We All Live