by Talia W., age 11
As stated so eloquently by Ruby Bridges’ mother, “Our Ruby taught us all a lot. She became someone who helped change our country. She was part of history, just like generals and presidents were part of history. They’re leaders and so was Ruby. She led us away from hate, and she led us nearer to knowing each other, the white folks and the black folks” (Coles 5). Ruby was a strong, brave leader who brought people together. Born on September 8, 1954, Ruby lived in a small cabin near Tylertown, Mississippi. Unfortunately, Ruby’s family was very poor. Hoping to pursue a better future for the children, her family moved to New Orleans when Ruby was just four years old. Young Ruby was a smart girl, who faced much persecution as she stood up against the injustice of segregation, and she still works today to create equal treatment for whites and blacks.
A famous court case, Brown v. Board of Education, ordered that all schools be integrated in 1954. Despite this ruling, less than two percent of southern schools were actually integrated by 1957. Finally, a federal court gave the city of New Orleans a deadline to be integrated by September of 1960 (Bridges 5). The New Orleans school board reluctantly tested all black kindergartners to see who would be chosen to attend the white schools. Hoping to continue segregation, the school board devised the test to ensure it would be very difficult to pass. Consequently, Ruby was one of only five girls who passed the test. One girl declined the offer to change schools. Three girls were sent to McDonogh 19. Ruby was sent alone to William Frantz Elementary. She was just six years old when she started her first day at this formerly all-white school.
Imagine being only six years old and walking past crowds of screaming and hollering people, struggling through each day as the only child in the classroom, and being called horrible names just because of the color of your skin. These are all challenges that six-year-old Ruby had to fearfully endure each and every day. As she walked the few blocks to school, she would stop a block away to offer her daily prayer for the people who hated her so much. One day as she was making her way to the school, she realized she had forgotten to pray for her persecutors. Determined to honor God, she stopped in front of the screaming mob and recited her daily prayer for them. Through the classroom window, her teacher noticed her talking to the crowd. When Ruby entered the classroom, her teacher asked Ruby why she had spoken to them. Ruby replied, “I wasn’t talking to them. I was praying for them.” Ruby endured tremendous persecution but still demonstrated genuine care and love for God and all His creatures, including those people who hated her so much.
Ruby’s pure heart led her to make changes that even many grown adults could not accomplish. Throughout her life, her actions inspired many improvements for African American people. As a young adult, Ruby was shocked by the death of one of her brothers, who was shot in a drug-related event. After the loss of her brother, Ruby then realized she could use her experiences to help other children. Her deceased brother had children who attended William Frantz Elementary school, and Ruby wanted to help them. Sadly, the formerly white school, William Frantz Elementary, had become a primarily black school which didn’t have adequate funds to provide up-to-date materials for its students. Ruby realized this was segregation all over again. She started volunteering at William Frantz Elementary School as a parent liaison and helped start after-school classes in art, dance, and etiquette. Working at the school inspired Ruby to create the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which has the goal to achieve equal respect and opportunities for all races. Everything that Ruby endured as a child eventually changed her future and inspired her to start the foundation that would help provide similar opportunities to white and black children.
Ruby’s original motivation for attending William Frantz Elementary School was not a desire to help other black children, but in the end, she helped them and accomplished much more than she ever could have dreamed. When she had the courage to pursue a better education for herself, she also changed the future for thousands of black children who came after her. She helped to build them a secure and safe future. Writing this paper really showed me how much Ruby achieved for children of all races. Without her I may not even be able to have black friends at my school. She helped me realize that when you bravely face injustice, the rewards could be long lasting and better than you could ever imagine. Ruby was a bridge to freedom.
Bridges, Ruby. Through My Eyes. Scholastic Press, 1999. Print.
Coles, Robert. The Story of Ruby Bridges. Scholastic, 1995. Print.