Celebrating prominent Black leaders: Ruby Bridges makes strides towards equal education

At a youthful age I valued education because my mother always spoke about how getting an education is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Growing up, my mother was getting her college degree while taking care of me and my brother. We spent many days at our godmother’s home who also instilled in our minds ‘education is key.’ One of the many things we did with her is watch or read books about African American history. The most impactful story that felt close to my heart was Ruby Bridges.

At six, Ruby Bridges’ parents received a letter from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to have their daughter participate in desegregating the New Orleans school system. Her parents were hesitant, but Bridges and five other children passed the test on whether they would be capable of it. Two of the six stayed at their school, three went to McDonogh No. 19, and Bridges went to William Frantz by herself.

According to The Guardian article, Bridges did not feel like she had a reason to be frightened by the large crowd of white people who surrounded and shouted at her when she attended her first year at Willam Frantz. At the age of 66, she rewatched the footage of her first day and felt terrified. She had different emotions about the whole engagement stating, “it was just mind-blowing, horrifying, I had feelings that I’d never had before… And I thought to myself: ‘I cannot even fathom me now, today, as a parent and grandparent, sending my child into an environment like that,” according to The Guardian.

While integrating at William Frantz Elementary school, Bridges was alone in her first year and was always escorted to the school door by four white court marshalls. The court marshalls protected her from white protestors that would gather and shout the nastiest things to Bridges.

Her father’s hesitation was not to be ignored; he had every reason to be. The Bridges family, which included both her parents, her four siblings and even her grandparents, were affected by this decision. Both of her parents lost their jobs and were told not to try and find work near their home. Bridges’ grandparents had to move farms just because their Black grandchild was going to a school that whites went to. Many people either donated or helped the family when they could during this time because they had no way of providing for themselves without being turned away.

In class, Bridges had no classmates and many children were not attending the school because of her. Only one teacher, Barbara Henry, stayed to teach her. Bridges still did not understand why she was alone and why so many people did not like her and her family. Bridge’s family did not explain the situation, but she continued to hold her head high.

By the end of her first year, she was slowly integrated with other white students whose parents protested Bridges attending the school at first. The children would express they were told not to play with her or respect because she was a “nigger”. Bridges shared that the principal was very against her attending the school, “The principal, who was part of the opposition, would take the kids and she would hide them, so that they would never come in contact with me,” according to The Guardian.

Currently Bridges has her own foundation, The Ruby Bridges Foundation which helps end all racism in education. She continues to be an activist. The Ruby Bridges Foundation was established to create an environment that embraces all races and cultural differences in a learning environment. According to The Ruby Bridges Foundation her message is “that racism has no place in the hearts and minds of children.”

While learning about Bridges in elementary school I did not understand how she was mature enough at that age to not want to ever leave her house and fear all white people forever. To this day, I think about how brave she was and still is. I hope to have an impact on others the same way Bridges has, and I will continue my journey of education because I am truly blessed for the sacrifices of her family for the future they helped build today.


Edited by Aja Carter and Simran Shrestha