On November 14, 1960, Ruby Bridges became the first black student to help integrate William Frantz Public School in New Orleans. William Frantz Public School was an all white elementary school until our government made the landmark decision to integrate schools. As to be expected during that time, Mrs. Bridges attendance to William Frantz Public School was met with protest. Like many parents, Mrs. Bridges parents wanted the best for their daughter and Mrs. Bridges along with the support of her family forged on. Mrs. Bridges completed her tenure at William Frantz Public School and went on to graduate from an integrated high school. The photos of Mrs. Bridges entering William Frantz Public School has become and will forever be etched in American history. Ruby Bridges recently talked to “Essence” about her life changing experience. Here’s an excerpt from that interview.
ESSENCE.COM: I know you’ve seen the photograph of Sasha Obama’s first day of school, surrounded by Secret Service agents, juxtaposed with your first day of school surrounded by federal marshals. What did you think of it?
RUBY BRIDGES: It was very moving. A friend of mine said she cried for both girls—one with tears of sadness, one with tears of joy. And that’s sort of what I felt when I saw it, remembering back to my first day of school but being so proud of the fact that here she was, going into school with guards but under totally different circumstances. It put things in perspective, the sacrifices that not only my parents made, but so many people. I felt a sense of pride for being a part of it. Having to go through that wasn’t in vain.
ESSENCE.COM: You mentioned your parents. Sasha Obama is, of course, famous because of who her parents are, but we seldom hear about the role your parents played in you going to William Frantz Elementary. Why did they want you to go?
BRIDGES: Neither of them had a formal education. They were sharecroppers, both born in Mississippi, so they were denied the opportunity to get the education that they wanted. So I think they saw this as a chance to offer me a better education, so they did. They paid dearly for it. My father was fired from his job because they found out that it was his daughter attending the White school.
ESSENCE.COM: What impact has that experience had on your life?
BRIDGES: It allowed me to realize that children come into the world with a clean heart. No baby will look at another and say, “I’m not going to live next door to you,” but as we get older it gets passed on to us. It made me feel like, if I wanted to build a legacy for myself, it would be to work with kids and help them understand that that is how racism continues to grow. If we are to stop it, then maybe we need to start with kids. And that’s what I wanted my work to be.
To read the interview in its entirety, please visit www.essence.com.