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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.
After Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, the African American community rallied behind her and refused to ride the segregated buses even if it meant walking to work.
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A neighbor provided Ruby's father with a job, while others volunteered to babysit the four children, watch the house as protectors, and walk behind the federal marshals on the trips to school.
After winter break, Ruby began to show signs of stress. She experienced nightmares and would wake her mother in the middle of the night seeking comfort. For a time, she stopped eating lunch in her classroom, which she usually ate alone. Wanting to be with the other students,
she would not eat the sandwiches her mother packed for her, but instead hid them in a storage cabinet in the classroom. Soon, a janitor discovered the mice and cockroaches who had found the sandwiches. The incident led Mrs. Henry to lunch with Ruby in the classroom.
Ruby started seeing child psychologist Dr. Robert Coles, who volunteered to provide counseling during her first year at Frantz School. He was very concerned about how such a young girl would handle the pressure. He saw Ruby once a week either at school or at her home. During these sessions, he would just let her talk about what she was experiencing. Sometimes his wife came too and, like Dr. Coles, she was very caring toward Ruby. Coles later wrote a series of articles for Atlantic Monthly and eventually a series of books on how children handle change, including a children's book on Ruby's experience.
Near the end of the first year, things began to settle down. A few white children in Ruby's grade returned to the school. Occasionally, Ruby got a chance to visit with them. By her own recollection many years later, Ruby was not that aware of the extent of the racism that erupted over her attending the school. But when another child rejected Ruby's friendship because of her race, she began to slowly understand.
By Ruby's second year at Frantz School it seemed everything had changed. Mrs. Henry's contract wasn't renewed, and so she and her husband returned to Boston. There were also no more federal marshals; Ruby walked to school every day by herself. There were other students in her second grade class, and the school began to see full enrollment again. No one talked about the past year. It seemed everyone wanted to put the experience behind them.
Ruby Bridges finished grade school, and graduated from the integrated Francis T. Nicholls High School in New Orleans. She then studied travel and tourism at the Kansas City business school and worked for American Express as a world travel agent. In 1984, Ruby married Malcolm Hall in New Orleans, and later became a full-time parent to their four sons.
In 1993, Ruby Bridges's youngest brother, Malcolm, was murdered in a drug-related killing. For a time, Ruby looked after Malcolm's four children who attended William Frantz School. She began to volunteer at the school three days a week and soon became a parent-community liaison. The coincidence of all this, to have her brother's death bring her back to her elementary school where so much had taken place, didn't escape Ruby, but she wasn't sure why all this happened.
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