Leaders in Black History: Ruby Bridges

Photo of Ruby Bridges at age 6 (left) and at age 66 (right).

Ruby Bridges was the first black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana in 1960.

Bridges was born on September 8, 1954, as the oldest child of Lucille and Abon Bridges. Ruby’s birth year coincided with the US Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. the Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in public schools.

Despite the ruling, Southern states continued to fight desegregation, and in 1960, the federal courts ordered Louisiana to desegregate, so Ruby would be allowed to attend.

Every day she attended school, Ruby and her mother were escorted by four federal marshals for their safety.

Then 6-year-old Ruby Bridges had to constantly walk past huge crowds of protestors spewing slurs at her.

One woman even brought a black baby doll in a coffin.

“That I used to have nightmares about,” Bridges said in an interview with The Guardian, “I would dream that the coffin was flying around my bedroom at night.”

Many white parents who believed in segregation would pull their children out of that school permanently in protest.

Only one teacher at William Frantz Elementary School accepted Ruby as a student: Barbara Henry, a white Boston native. All throughout Ruby’s first year, she was a class of one.

She ate lunch alone and played at recess with her teacher, but never missed a day of school that year.

In 1964, artist Norman Rockwell celebrated Ruby’s courage with a painting of that first day titled “The Problem We All Live With”.