In 1960, Ruby Bridges made history.

She was only 6 years old when she became the first Black student to integrate an all-white public school in the South.

Bridges, in a white sweater, black patent leather shoes and a white bow in her hair, carried a tiny satchel while being escorted by U.S. federal marshals to William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. A black and white photo of the event was memorialized in a now iconic 1964 painting by Norman Rockwell titled, “The Problem We All Live With.”

Bridges was born the year the U.S. Supreme Court declared separate but equal schools unconstitutional in the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision.

But Southern states did all they could to get around the law including creating private schools.

Bridges became the only student in her class, as white New Orleans’ residents pulled their children out of the school, and only one teacher would work with her. Each day Bridges, her mother and the federal marshals would walk by crowds hurling racial slurs. She later recalled seeing a woman holding a black doll in a coffin.  

The Bridges family struggled during this time. Her father lost his job, her grandparents were evicted from their farm where they were sharecroppers and a local New Orleans’ grocery store refused to sell to her mother.

Bridges’ story and her family’s experience were captured in a 1998 Disney movie. But instead of being inspired by the film and Bridge’s bravery, a parent of a student at North Shore Elementary School in St. Petersburg, Florida, complained that the movie might teach young children that white people hate Black people.

The parent was concerned about the racial slurs in the film and felt the movie was inappropriate for second-graders.

Let’s not forget that Bridges was in the first grade when she endured those racial slurs from adults. 

The initial response to the parent’s complaint was to ban the Disney film from being shown to students at North Shore Elementary. But after media fallout, on Monday (April 3), an eight-member committee of teachers, parents and community members voted unanimously to continue to show the “Ruby Bridges” film to students at North Shore Elementary school.  

They did the right thing.

But let’s not stop there.

In addition to continuing to show the film, the school district and school could also provide resource materials to parents and teachers that put the film in the context of the time. It can be a learning tool about race and social justice as some teachers said they already did in their classrooms.

For example, has this age-appropriate guide on anti-racism for kids. Ibram Kendi’s book, “AntiRacist Baby” takes us through “nine easy steps for building a more equitable world.” And Kids Health has an article on “Talking to Kids About Race and Racism.” 

The Center for Racial Justice in Education has numerous resources for talking about race and racism and the Chicago Parent put together a list of 15 anti-racism books for kids to read at home. 

A simple Google search yields many resources from books to articles to videos on teaching children about the subject. If a parent was concerned that children would believe white people hated Black people from watching a Disney film, any of these resources could be used to start a discussion on race and racism. 

Better yet, why not have students learn about the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which aims to provide “programs and resources to guide and support younger generations on their pathway toward a more peaceful and harmonious future.”

Pinellas County school district students could participate in an annual “Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day” and have discussions about racism and bullying.

The film could be the beginning of a wider discussion on race relations in the United States. This is an opportunity for young people at North Shore to learn about the Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow segregation and the progress of the nation since the 1960s.

But this is Florida.

Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” which, among other things, prohibits the teaching of concepts where a “A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sec.”

In 2021, the Florida Board of Education banned critical race theory from being taught in schools. An Associated Press report noted that at the time, DeSantis had told the school board that critical race theory was “toxic” and that “it’ll cause people to think of themselves more as a member of [a] particular race based on skin color, rather than based on the content of their character and based on their hard work and what they’re trying to accomplish in life.”

See how he used Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words there? Slick, huh?

North Shore Elementary still has an opportunity to teach that children can be changemakers. 

Ruby Bridges made history.  

She helped move the country forward in the struggle for civil rights. I’m glad one parent’s complaint did not keep a whole school from learning about her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement.

But in Florida, Bridges’ legacy may still be at risk to the political winds of the Florida legislature. Her actions might be deemed as “woke” and indoctrination, and her historical milestone may be lost to political egos and presidential aspirations. 

And that’s why education — formal and informal — is so important, more powerful even, than politicians’ policies and political ploys.

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Lottie L. Joiner, assistant managing editor at Verite, is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience covering issues that impact underserved and marginalized communities. She...