In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education tackled Educational Segregation then in 1959, one little girl broke down the barrier.
Born September 8th, 1954, Ruby Bridges (the eldest of five children) in Tylertown, Mississippi when she was two years-old, her parents moved to New Orleans, Louisiana.
With the passing of Brown v BOE in ’54, southern states were ordered by federal law to desegregate. In retaliation (and an attempt to stall the Integration process), Bridges’ own school district and others created entrance exams to deter potential Black students and measure their ability to compete with white students. Ruby and three other students went on to attend McDonough Elementary School.
On November 17 of 1959 after a brief interlude of changing schools, Bridges and her mother were escorted by federal marshals to her new school, William Frantz Elementary School. Within a few weeks as a six-year-old child experienced horrendous acts of racism and ostracization. Her first day of school was spent in the principle’s office seeing as no teacher wanted to take her one because of her skin. Each day she was escorted pass a vicious mob that spat hate and slurs in her direction in one instance someone showcased to her a Black doll in a coffin. With the support of her teacher, Barbara Henry (a Boston migrant), she made it through the first few weeks.
Her family experienced strife as well: her father lost his job as a gas station attendant while grocery stores barred her mother service. Things ventured downhill quickly, but with the support of the community the Bridges’ family trooped on, her father was hired by a family friend while the community brought groceries by the home and offered to babysit the younger children of their home. But behind the scenes, the stress of this courageous act was not lost on Bridges’ for she started to experience nightmares and hoarding food in cupboards‒ for fear of being poisoned, one truly vicious protester threatened this of her. Eventually child psychologist, Dr. Robert Cole volunteered his services to console and counsel Bridges during the first year.
By the end of the first year, things died down and Bridges’ now walked alone to William Frantz. She still experienced racism and ostracization minding the fact her original teacher, Barbara Henry’s contract was not reinstated. She was the only child in her second-grade class and even had friendships break because of her skin.
As of now with The Ruby Bridges’ Foundation established in ’99, an autobiographical children’s’ book written by her former psychologist, a DISNEY movie, and renown family. Bridges’ now leads a full life as a world travel agent and activist. She was recently recognized for her keynote speech at the MLK virtual celebration held by Syracuse University.
I now know that experience comes to us for a purpose, and if we follow the guidance of the spirit within us, we will probably find that the purpose is a good one.