On Nov. 14, 1960, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges desegregated William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Her role in the history of public school integration helped change the trajectory of education for Black students in the nation.
Bridges was born on Sept. 8, 1954, in Tylertown, Mississippi, to farmers Abon and Lucille Bridges. At age two, Bridges and her family moved to New Orleans.
Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, which ruled segregated public schools unconstitutional, the decision to integrate schools faced fierce opposition in the South, with some politicians vowing massive resistance.
In 1959, while attending kindergarten at an all-Black school in New Orleans, Bridges passed a qualifying exam issued by the school district to measure her ability to compete academically at an all-white school.
Per a court order issued by federal district judge J. Skelly Wright, Bridges would begin attending William Frantz, and three other Black girls – Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost — would attend McDonough #19 Elementary School on Nov. 14, 1960.
In a 2022 interview with NPR, Bridges recalled that first day of school. She had no idea why people were standing outside the school yelling and said it looked like a Mardi Gras parade.
“When I arrived on the first day, the mob of people standing outside rushed inside of the building behind me,” Bridges said in the NPR interview. “I was escorted to the principal’s office, where I sat the whole day with my mom, waiting to be assigned to a classroom. But that did not happen…”
By her second day, the school was empty, as was her classroom. Bridges would be the only student in her class for the entire school year. She was taught by Barbara Henry, a white teacher who had come from Boston to teach the young student.
The few children who returned to William Frantz were kept separate. During her NPR interview, Bridges recalled that when she was introduced to the other students, one of the students called her a racial epithet.
Her story has been portrayed in movies, books and was even the subject of a famous 1963 Norman Rockwell painting, “The Problem We All Live With.” Since her brave walk alone, Bridges started a foundation, The Ruby Bridges Foundation, to support the fight against racism, has authored several books, has had two elementary schools named after her — in Washington and California — and has had a statue erected in her honor at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.
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