On her way to school in the morning, Ruby Bridges walked through a crowd of hateful people shouting threats and curses.
It was a terrible glove for a 6 year old girl.
What sometimes goes unmentioned in stories about Ruby, who in 1960 became the first black child to enter William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, is the strange silent world she has. met on the other side of this crowd.
She learned in an otherwise empty classroom. She was the only student. His teacher was Barbara Henry, a Boston native who was the only staff member willing to accept a black student.
While most white parents had taken their children out of school, a few violated the boycott and sent the youngsters back to school within days. White students were kept away from Ruby, but every once in a while she heard the sound of young voices.
“I would mention it to Mrs. Henry,” Ruby Bridges Hall said in a 2018 interview with the Norman Rockwell Museum. “I would say, ‘Mrs. Henry, I hear kids! And she would never say anything.
This strange limbo finally came to an end when her teacher, aware that the principal was illegally segregating white students, insisted that they be allowed to see each other.
The solitary confinement that marked Ruby’s first year at school is beyond belief, said Nicole Moore, director of education at the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Moore said: “You can’t expect to sit next to your friend because there’s no friend to sit next to. No recess. An essential part of his childhood experience has been taken away from him.
Ruby wasn’t the only black child to enter white schools in New Orleans that year, but she lived through her experience alone.
Sybil Morial, who turns 90 this year, was a young mother in 1960, married to attorney Ernest “Dutch” Morial, who filed a lawsuit forcing New Orleans to comply with the Brown V. Board of Education of 1954. (Ernest would later become New Orleans’ first black mayor.)
Their children went to a Catholic school in New Orleans, and Sybil Morial said, “Years later they told me some of the things they needed to hear. Sometimes they had to run home or take another way home.
Was it traumatic for them? “They told me it made them strong.”
In interviews, Ruby Bridges Hall often downplays the emotional impact of her experiences as a 6-year-old. (She said the crowd of protesters in the street outside her school reminded her of Mardi Gras.)
But former ambassador Andrew Young’s 2009 documentary film, “How We Got Over,” offers a clear picture of the times.
In the film, Young interviews Ray Moore, who was WSB’s television news director at the time, and includes footage from Moore’s contemporary reporting on New Orleans.
In a report outside Ruby’s school, Moore tells the camera, “A woman’s mouth twisted when she saw a little six-year-old black child with a white bow in his hair walking into the William Frantz school this morning. The woman said, “Look at that slimy black thing.”
Years later, Young caught up with Moore, who explained that as news director, he willingly assigned the story to New Orleans.
“I sent myself,” he told Young, “because I wanted this community to face desegregation.”
When Moore recalled the scene in New Orleans, his memories were even scarier than the TV segments. “Some of the white women were saying, ‘Spit on her! Spit on her! as this little black child passed by,’ he told Young, they called and all the horrible things they did were really sickening.
The late Dr. Robert Coles, author and Harvard professor who, in 1960, had just finished serving in the military as a military psychologist, observed the events in New Orleans, and they changed the course of his life. .
He offered to provide advice to Ruby and her family and met with them several times over the next year. He wrote extensively about children in the civil rights movement in “Children of Crisis” and “The Spiritual Life of Children” and eventually wrote the children’s book “The Story of Ruby Bridges”, donating proceeds to the Ruby Bridges Foundation.
In an interview from the time, Coles recalled an incident he recounted on several occasions. Ruby’s teacher tells her that she saw Ruby stop on the school stairs and talk to the protesters.
When he asks the child about it, she tells him she wasn’t talking to the protesters, she was talking to God.
“Why were you praying to God? he asks her.
“I was praying for people on the street.
“I said ‘Ruby why would you pray for these people?’ And she looked at me and her eyes went wide and she said, ‘Don’t you think they need to pray for them?’ It stopped me dead.
Scholastic will release a new Bridges book, “I Am Ruby Bridges,” this fall. According to the publisher, the book will offer “a personal and intimate look through a child’s lens at an experience that changed the face of history and the trajectory of the civil rights movement.”
Today, Ruby Bridges Hall speaks to children around the world about her walk through the gauntlet. She was inspired, she says, by Norman Rockwell’s famous portrait of 6-year-old Ruby, “The Problem We All Live With”, which originally appeared in Look magazine.
“Once I saw this painting, I knew there was something much bigger than myself that I needed to pursue and get involved with,” she told the Norman Rockwell Museum in 2018. “So I think that kind of set me on my quest to tell my story and my work with children. That’s what I do today.”