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Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to attend an all-white public elementary school in the American South.
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Ruby Bridges visited President Barack Obama to see Norman Rockwell's painting hanging outside of the Oval Office. The painting depicts her walk to school on the day of school integration in New Orleans. Video courtesy of the White House.
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Born on September 8, 1954, in Tylertown, Mississippi, Ruby Bridges was 6 when she became the first African-American child to integrate a white Southern elementary school, having to be escorted to class by her mother and U.S. marshals due to violent mobs. Bridges’ bravery paved the way for continued Civil Rights action and she’s shared her story with future generations in educational forums.
Ruby Nell Bridges was born on September 8, 1954, in Tylertown, Mississippi, and grew up on the farm her parents and grandparents sharecropped in Mississippi. When she was 4 years old, her parents, Abon and Lucille Bridges, moved to New Orleans, hoping for a better life in a bigger city. Her father got a job as a gas station attendant and her mother took night jobs to help support their growing family. Soon, young Ruby had two younger brothers and a younger sister.
The fact that Ruby Bridges was born the same year that the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision desegregated the schools is a notable coincidence to her early journey into civil rights activism. When Ruby was in kindergarten, she was one of many African-American students in New Orleans who were chosen to take a test determining whether or not she could attend a white school. It is said the test was written to be especially difficult so that students would have a hard time passing. The idea was if all the African-American children failed the test, New Orleans schools might be able to stay segregated for a while longer. She lived a mere five blocks from an all-white school, but attended kindergarten several miles away in an all-black segregated school
Her father was averse to his daughter taking the test, believing that if she passed and was allowed to go to the white school, there would be trouble. Her mother, Lucille, however, pressed the issue, believing that Ruby would get a better education at a white school. She was eventually able to convince Ruby's father to let her take the test.
In 1960, Ruby Bridges's parents were informed by officials from the NAACP that she was one of only six other African-American students to pass the test. Ruby would be the only African-American student to attend the William Frantz School, near her home. When the first day of school rolled around in September, Ruby was still at her old school. All through the summer and early fall, the Louisiana state legislature had found ways to fight the federal court order and slow the integration process. After exhausting all stalling tactics, the legislature had to relent, and the designated schools were to be integrated in November. Fearing there might be some civil disturbances, the federal district court judge requested the U.S. government send federal marshals to New Orleans to protect the children.
On the morning of November 14, 1960, federal marshals drove Ruby and her mother the five blocks to her new school. While in the car, one of the men explained that when they arrived at the school, two marshals would walk in front of Ruby and two would be behind her.
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