Ruby Bridges helped pave the way for Civil Rights

Marteena Oliphant
News Writer

Courtney Tolbert, corresponding secretary of BSU, with Bridges.
Courtney Tolbert, corresponding secretary of BSU, with Bridges.

On February 6th, The Future filled the Clair Performance Hall, to listen to a major figure in the history of the African American fight to eradicate inequality, injustice, and alienation of the black population in America tell her ever resounding life story. Ruby Nell-Bridges, the first African-American child to attend an all white elementary school in the United States, was this years’ keynote Speaker for the annual “MLK day Celebration”, sponsored by the NAACP College Chapter and the Black Student Union at Millersville University.
Her message for the night was “Racism is a grown-up disease, and we must stop using our children to spread it.” In 1960, her young life was dismantled by “the knock at the door” one morning when the young Ruby Nell and her mother were escorted to her first day at Williams Frantz Public School (an all white school) by U.S. Marshalls, sent by President Eisenhower to her home in New Orleans. At six-years old, Bridges, only caring about how much she hated the coat her mother made her wear that day, and who despised peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, had no idea how her life was going to affect the lives of millions of other young African American children for years to come.
Being only six-years old, at the time, and now a living legacy, her story remains alive, in the history books, the media, and in a major film that is still watched and used as apart of lesson plans in many elementary schools to date. In her young adulthood Bridges became inquisitive about the Civil Rights Movement and started doing her own research on the era. Prior to her research Bridges expressed that she “thought The Civil Rights Movement was about blacks against whites, and whites against blacks” but was mistaken. She soon learned that racism, and the Civil Rights Movement was about “what was right and what was wrong.”
All her research and the things she had learned about the events occurring in American society during her own racial conflicts led her to the conclusion that the history books weren’t telling the entire truth about our nations past. She was taken aback by the real truths that were omitted from American children’s history books—history wasn’t what she thought it was.
“I was disappointed in what history made of my situation,” said Bridges. 140 families had allowed their children to participate in a test that determined whether or not they were able to perform well academically in all white schools. Out of those 140 children only six were going to enter into all white schools in NOLA. Ruby was eventually left alone due to other parents growing worries about the treatment of their children in schools where other parents, teachers, and community people were openly and adamant about their disapproval of the integration efforts. Bridges stated that neighborhood people would rally and protest the integration of public schools yelling racial slurs, and chanting, “2, 4, 6, 8, we will not integrate!”

Ruby Bridges doing a book signing after the lecture.
Ruby Bridges doing a book signing after the lecture.

Bridges was escorted to school everyday by those same U.S. Marshalls, along with adults from her neighborhood, friends of her parents who would follow the car she rode to school in, on foot to ensure her safety to and from Frantz Public School. She didn’t interact with any of the other students, her lessons, her lunch and her recess were spent in the same room, with the same person, her first grade teacher, Mrs. Henry whom she said was and still is her best friend so many years later. When she once was allowed to interact with her other school mates, (most of whom wouldn’t be sent to schools simply because a black child was in attendance) she recalled that a 6 year-old Caucasian boy wouldn’t play with her and he said, “my mommy said I can’t play with you because you’re black.”
Ruby Bridges stated that she “made it her mission” to eradicate opportunities for situations like that to occur in today’s classrooms. She spends her life going around the country, talking with and teaching students the importance of “loving and accepting one another for the content of their character like Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed our nation would.” Her story was powerful, yet solemn, as she related the same issues of the civil rights movement to modern day with the story of how the African American population in America has come to suffer from it’s own civil war, as she described the killing of her oldest son, by another African-American man only when he was 25 years-old. The war was no longer “white against blacks and vice-verse, it became man against himself.”
In all the difficulty Bridges endured in her educational experience, she had never missed a day of school during her first grade year. To complete the powerful message of the story Ruby Bridges told, she received standing ovations and applause from a room with a solid age range of 6 to 65 years of age. When the time came for a question and answer session, children out past their bedtime reveled in asking the eternal 6-year old Bridges questions about her life. Her impact was felt, but was it something the younger people in the room understood, something that would resonate with them term? If it wasn’t magical enough that mainly children filled the aisles to ask questions to Bridges, 9 year-old 4th grader, Chloe Elie, asked “Were you happy when you found out that you were going to be the person to change the world?”