Thursday, September 5, 2019

Brave Little Ruby is Now 65!

Remember little Ruby Bridges? For some reason, I hadn’t remembered her, but I was greatly impressed when last fall I saw “Ruby Bridges,” the 1998 movie about her and what she did in 1960. This week she celebrates her 65th birthday.
What Ruby Did
Ruby Bridges was born on September 8, 1954, in southern Mississippi. In 1957 her family moved to New Orleans, and three years later it was time for her to start to elementary school.
Even though this was six years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional, up until the fall of 1960 schools were still segregated in New Orleans.
That year, however, a judge ordered four black girls to go to two white elementary schools. Three went to one of those schools, but Ruby was the only one sent to the William Frantz Elementary School.
So, little Ruby started to school—and what a hectic experience that was for her! Mobs of people gathered to protest, to shout at her, to raise a ruckus. Federal marshals were pressed into service to protect her. How brave little Ruby was!
Here is Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of Ruby’s first day of school: 
When the white parents would not allow their children to study in the same room with Ruby, Mrs. Barbara Henry (b. 1932), her wonderful teacher, taught Ruby, and only Ruby, for the next several months.
Here is a picture of Ruby with Mrs. Henry in 2004, standing in front of Rockwell’s painting: 
What Robert Coles Did
 I had long known about Robert Coles, one of America’s most prominent child psychiatrists, a longtime Harvard professor, and now the author of more than sixty books. Until I saw the movie “Ruby Bridges,” however, I did not know that Coles (b. 1929) spent many hours with that exceptional child during her first hectic year of school.
Based on those conversations with her, Coles wrote “The Story of Ruby Bridges,” the slim children’s book published in 1995. (You can hear the book read and see the impressive illustrations on YouTube, here.)
“Ruby Bridges” is also the last chapter of Coles’s book Lives We Carry with Us: Profiles of Moral Courage (2010). On the first page of that chapter, Coles writes that Ruby
had to brave murderously heckling mobs, there in the morning and there in the evening, hurling threats and slurs and hysterical denunciations and accusations. . . .
Still, Ruby persisted, and so did her parents” (pp. 204-5).
Coles spent a considerable amount of time with Ruby during that tumultuous school year of 1960-61, and it is quite clear that he was greatly impressed with the brave little girl. His children’s book, re-published on the 50th anniversary of the events of 1960, has been read by tens of thousands of school children across the country and around the world.
What Can We Learn?
1) The importance of faith/prayer, clearly displayed by Ruby and her parents. Coles was basically a religious agnostic, but even he was impressed with Ruby’s faith. Here is the link to a touching 5-minute video titled “Robert Coles Speaks on Ruby Bridges.” (It is well worth watching.)
2) The insidious nature of racism, clearly seen in the animosity expressed toward Ruby. In the video mentioned above, there is actual footage from that time, and it is hard to imagine now just how strong racism was then.
3) The persistence of racism and the ongoing need to oppose it. For example, just last month the office of an African American employee of the U.S. Department of Education was vandalized and a poster depicting Ruby Bridges was damaged. 


  1. Before 6:30 this morning, I received the following email from local Thinking Friend Bob Leeper:

    "Leroy, we moved from Philadelphia to Jackson Ms in 1973 in the wake of integration: our home choices were in the segregated white zone near white schools vs white segregated neighborhood near the integrated high school; our kids became minority whites and faced situations we learned more fully years later! They both emerged as advocates for freedom and ethical inclusion!

    "Ruby was in a ground- breaking brave role to open those doors! It was not a smooth time in Mississippi 1973-77 but remains one of our favorite memories; we viewed integration from the schoolroom with our kids BUT after the pioneers blazed the trail."

    1. Thanks, Bob, for sharing your family's personal experiences with school integration. It is amazing how that continued to be such a problem in the South even 20 years after Brown v Board of Education.

      I was happy to hear that your children became advocates for freedom and inclusion.

  2. And then I received these pertinent comments from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for sharing this story. Ms. Bridges was indeed a very courageous girl, and perhaps also her teacher, Barbara Henry. Would we, as white parents, have been brave enough to put our children in Ms. Henry's classroom with Ruby? I have to wonder."

    1. Thanks for your comments, Eric.

      Yes, I think Mrs. Henry, who is from Boston, it to be highly commended for her willingness to teach Ruby in a class of one.
      And, yes, it is amazing that it took so many months before any white parents were willing to allow their children to be in the same classroom with Ruby. It is always easy to look back and to say what "we" would have done, but who knows in the pressure of the situation what we would have had the courage to do. The pressure to go along with the majority is always very strong.

  3. Local Thinking Friend "Dub" Steincross shares this brief comment:

    "Leroy, That is a powerful video. Thank you for offering it for our thoughts decades later."

    1. Thanks, Dub, for reading the blog article and for watching the linked video. I hope most of my Thinking Friends did that, for it was, as you say "a powerful video." -- Leroy

  4. About 10 minutes ago a local Thinking friend wrote, "How inspiring. We’ve talked about racism ever since Ruby, but it is not getting getting us anywhere."

    In response let me just say this: at least for years and years now African American children have been able to go to integrated schools without having to be escorted by federal marshalls. Surely talk about and opposition to racism has had something to do with how much different the situation is now than in 1960.

    1. Correction: "marshalls" should be "marshals." (Sorry for the mistake.)

  5. Wow. Those links are amazing. Compared to the full-throated thundering racism Ruby faced down every day, America has moved quite a ways. On the other hand, that massive resistance to integrated public schools has not died out at all, as all sorts of "Christian" academies and charter schools have sought to hide from Ruby and all she represents. De facto segregation based on segregated housing has resulted in almost as much segregation of schools today as was happening then. I remember during Obama's administration, there was a lot of loose talk about a "post-racial" America. Well, that talk has definitely been "Trumped." America still has a very long ways to go.

    Earlier today I happened to read a review of (white) Robin DiAngelo's "White Fragility" by (black) Lauren Michele Jackson on Slate. Both women struggled with how even well-meaning whites should try to figure out what they are doing and what they should be doing on race. Meanwhile, Ruby Bridges' amazing prayer for the white people protesting against her education had an echo in the Slate article. Included was a quote from Du Bois, "Of them I am singularly clairvoyant. I see in and through them. … I see these souls undressed and from the back and side. I see the working of their entrails. I know their thoughts and they know that I know." Just what Ruby was doing with that crowd. You can read the Slate article here:

    1. Thanks for your significant comments, Craig--and for your link to the Slate article, which I found quite interesting. I haven't read "White Fragility," but I have listened to a TED talk (I think it was) on the subject by DiAngelo--and thought it was quite good.

      The problem is that there is never anything we white people can say or do that will be considered sufficient by some people of color--but we need to keep on saying and doing things for racial justice anyway.

      I don't know that I would agree that there is "almost as much segregation of schools today as was happening then," although de facto segregation is certainly a big problem. In 2008 when William Frantz Elementary School (Ruby's school) closed, it was 100% Black.

      On the other hand, LSU didn't admit the first group (of six) Black students until 1964 (there were a very few individuals, mostly in graduate school, before then), but now it is over 11% Black.

      I certainly agree that "America still has a very long ways to go," but I can't help but think that it has come a long ways since 1960.

  6. Thinking Friend Wade Paris in Bolivar, Mo., wrote,

    "I read your blog and the links with great feeling. I remember those frightful days. Many years later President Eisenhower confessed the marshals carried guns but they were not loaded. How wise."



    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Wade. -- I didn't know that about the marshals' guns not being loaded.

  7. And then there is this comment from a local Thinking Friend:

    "This was a VERY inspiring post! I loved the video clip with Coles. Ruby was such a brave girl. It was interesting to see how her faith carried her through this ordeal"

  8. Thanks so much for refreshing our memories of Ruby Bridges’ story with the blog and videos, Leroy! Several thoughts come to mind:

    We’ve come so far since a crowd of ordinary American townspeople could gather without conscience, spouting such hate and threats — but recent backward steps show that we have such a long way to go!

    Little Ruby’s response to forgive and pray for them, because “they don’t know what they’re doing,” is perhaps the most moving and glorious thing about her and her Christian faith.

    Now that American conscience/consciousness about racial prejudice has increased, is it still true that “they don’t know what they’re doing”?