Ruby Bridges, Child of Civil Rights by Linda Harris Sittig

Some women become strong with age and others are forced to learn strength during childhood. One such woman is Ruby Bridges.

Artist Norman Rockwell painted her before her ninth birthday. Look, a popular magazine of that era, featured her the year she turned ten. All the major newspapers of her childhood captured her story. And all of this because Ruby Bridges was the first black child ever to attend an all-white public school in New Orleans, Louisiana. The year was 1960 and Ruby Bridges was only six years old.
It’s often hard to look back on history and judge events by today’s standards. But in 1960 when the Civil Rights Movement was gathering momentum, a Louisiana judge selected six young black girls to attend white elementary schools and begin the process of integration in New Orleans. Two of the girls chose to remain in their old schools and three of the girls were assigned to McDonough Elementary. Ruby was sent alone, by herself, to William Frantz Elementary.
It would have been a daunting experience to go to a school where you were the only minority child, but Ruby encountered unprecedented hate as crowds of angry parents withdrew their children from the school and teachers went out of their way to avoid Ruby, except one: Barbara Henry would become her year-long teacher. On Ruby’s first day she entered her classroom to find it completely empty – she was in a class of one.
Day by day townspeople grew angrier and shouted ugly names at her as Ruby walked to school. Soon federal marshals were ordered to escort Ruby along her route. Those marshals may have protected her body, but the loneliness of going where no one wants you, had to tug at her heart. She had the love of her parents, the caring of her teacher, and by luck the support of Dr. Robert Coles, a child psychiatrist who volunteered to work with her and her family to help with the ordeal of Ruby’s isolation.
Ruby learned to further her reading and writing skills in that first grade classroom without any peers, without any friends, without any company other than her teacher. She couldn’t go out on the play ground for recess or eat lunch with any other child; but she persevered and continued to study, continued to learn, and continued to go to school each day – with perfect attendance by the end of the year.
By her second year in elementary school, the angry mobs had dispersed and she was placed in a regular second grade classroom along with a few other black students. Her beloved first grade teacher Barbara Henry, however, did not have her contract renewed. It was a message that even Ruby understood.
Ruby Bridges went on to graduate from public high school in New Orleans, become a travel agent, and then marry and start a family. When one of her brothers died, Ruby took it upon herself to walk his three young daughters to school – to William Frantz Elementary School. Walking back into that building had to resurrect the ghosts of her early childhood. Undaunted, Ruby decided to begin volunteering at Frantz, working as a liaison between parents and the school.
Eventually she became a popular speaker, going out to schools and talking about the greatest lesson she ever learned: that each child is a unique being fashioned by God and that schools can be the place where children of all races and backgrounds can come together and learn from one another.
Ruby Bridges was a strong child who grew into a stronger woman.


About lhsittig

I am a freelance writer who specializes in historical fiction that showcases strong female protagonists. In non-fiction I focus on literacy tips for parents and teachers to help children become life long readers.
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9 Responses to Ruby Bridges, Child of Civil Rights by Linda Harris Sittig

  1. Your blog should be read by all middle school and high school students. Girls and boys need to see examples of strong women as they are growing up and discovering who they are and how to respect one another.

    • lhsittig says:

      Thanks Bobbi. I sometimes worry that today’s generation doesn’t understand the sacrifices that were made so that all children are entitled to equal education.

  2. I would have loved to see a picture of the courageous little girl. Great post, Linda. Thanks.

  3. Denise Canby says:

    Awesome. This made my day. Denise

  4. lhsittig says:

    The first time I read about Ruby and saw her photo, I got goose bumps.

  5. rich fox says:

    i enjoy these written snapshots immensely. keep em comin’.

  6. Betsy says:

    An inspiring story, Linda, but also a very sad one. What a terrible situation for an innocent little girl. I am thankful she had a teacher who remembered not only what her job was, but her own humanity, and stepped up in an impossible situation. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  7. Carol Truehart says:

    When I taught kindergarten, I spent two weeks sharing multicultural books highlighting our humanness. I included a biography of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. I wanted my five and six year olds to know that they can stand up to injustice anywhere, anytime .
    Thanks Linda

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