A native of Tylertown, Mississippi, Bridges was born in 1954, the same year that the United States Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation of public-school children was unconstitutional. At just six-years-old, Bridges made history as the first Black child to integrate an elementary school in the American South. Escorted by four white marshals, she still remembers everything about that pivotal day. She specifically remembers being surrounded by a mob of angry white adults who hurled racial slurs and tomatoes.
"I didn't know who they were or why they were there, but living in New Orleans, I thought I had just gotten caught up in the middle of a Mardi Gras parade. Now we all know that was truly not the case," Bridges previously told People magazine.
The image of Ruby walking into first grade at William Frantz Elementary School was cemented in history forever. That historical day in Louisiana was captured in the famous 1964 Norman Rockwell painting, "The Problem We All Live With."
While Bridges would spend the next six decades of her life as an activist and stalwart for justice, she credits her parents, Lucille and Abon Bridges, as the real heroes. Together, the couple made the decision to send 6-year-old Ruby into the new school, fully aware of the implications and possible consequences of their decision. While segregation supporters withdrew their students as a result of Bridges’ presence, her parents stood their ground and young Ruby spent an entire school year alone in a classroom with Barbara Henry, the only white teacher at William Frantz who was willing to instruct her.
As a result, Bridges was the victim of daily harassment, bullying, and racial slurs. She particularly remembers one incident that scared her the most: a white woman holding out a Black doll in a coffin. The decision to integrate also affected her family's livelihood; they lived in constant fear and her father lost his job. "...Even grocery stores refused to serve the family," Bridges told reporters.
Now an author, wife, mother of four, and founder of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, she travels around the world sharing her experiences about her harrowing ordeal with integration and advocating for equal rights. She's always finding new ways to connect her story to the movement today.
She has published several books about her experience in her own words, including “Through My Eyes” and “This Is Your Time,” her third book released on November 10, 2020, which is the same day her mother, Lucille, passed away at the age of 86.
"Today our country lost a hero...." Ruby Bridges expressed the loss of her mother on her Instagram:
Now the civil rights pioneer is back with another book, “I Am Ruby Bridges,” recently released on September 6th. The children’s book tells Bridges' story through the lens of her 6-year-old self, taking readers back to that fateful day in 1960s New Orleans. The picture book is 48 pages and includes dynamic illustrations by New York Times bestselling artist Nikkolas Smith; an added glossary to support young readers with learning new words is also included. Bridges hopes that her newest work will stress the importance of learning your history and spark a seed in the next up and coming activists.
“It is important for all children to know all of our history, good or bad. It is our shared history in this country and, [therefore] we should all know [it],” said Bridges.
She said she’s grateful to still be able to tell her story, calling the latest book her most personal one yet.
“I Am Ruby Bridges is my most personal book yet. It’s not just about my experience integrating schools. It’s also about the innocent ways that a child sees the world. Writing as my six-year-old self reminded me how differently kids interpret things than adults do. Children are much better at finding humor in everything, even in times of great challenge. That’s what this book really does; it allows young kids to learn history in a fun way, which is something that I’m very passionate about,” Bridges said via press release.
To purchase your copy of “I Am Ruby Bridges,” click here.
Photo Courtesy of Scholastic Imprint Orchard Books/Thomas Dumont/The Guardian