Best known for: First African-American student to attend an all-white elementary school in the South
Where did Ruby Bridges grow up?
Ruby Bridges grew up on a small farm in Tylertown, Mississippi. Her parents were sharecroppers, meaning they farmed the land, but didn't own it. When Ruby was four years old, her family moved to New Orleans. In New Orleans, Ruby lived in a small apartment where she shared a bedroom with her sister and two younger brothers. Her father worked at a gas station and her mother worked night jobs to help make ends meet. Ruby had fun playing with her friends in New Orleans. They played softball, jumped rope, and climbed trees.
US Marshals with Young Ruby Bridges on School Steps by Unknown
Ruby went to kindergarten at an all black school. The schools in New Orleans at that time were segregated. This meant that black students went to different schools than white students. Ruby's school was a long walk from her home, but she didn't mind. She liked her teacher Mrs. King and enjoyed kindergarten.
Chosen for Integration
One day, Ruby was asked to take a test. She didn't know this at the time, but the test was supposed to determine which black students would be allowed to attend a white school. Ruby was a very bright girl and aced the test. After that, her parents were told that she could attend the local white school and begin the integration of black students with white students.
At first her father didn't want her to go to the white school. He was afraid that it would be dangerous. There were a lot of white people who were angry and didn't want Ruby at their school. Her mother, however, thought it would be good opportunity. Ruby would get a better education and would help pave the way for future children. Eventually, her mother convinced her father.
First Day at a White School
Ruby began the first grade at her old school. Some people were still trying to stop her from going to the all-white school. However, on November 14, 1960, Ruby attended her first day at the all-white William Frantz School near her home. It was only five blocks away.
When Ruby arrived at the school there were lots of people protesting and threatening Ruby and her family. Ruby didn't fully understand what was going on, but she knew her parents were scared. Some white men in suits arrived (Federal Marshals) that morning. They drove Ruby to school and surrounded her on the way in.
The first day of school was strange for Ruby. All she did was sit in the principal's office with her mom. She saw the parents of white kids come in throughout the day. They were taking their kids out of the school.
The Only Child in Class
Ruby was the only black child to attend William Frantz School. Even though the school was integrated, the classrooms were not. She was in a classroom all by herself. She had a white teacher named Mrs. Henry. The rest of the year it was just Ruby and Mrs. Henry. Ruby liked Mrs. Henry. She was nice and they became good friends.
Were there other students at the school?
The school was mostly empty. Ruby was the only black student, but there were only a few white students as well. Many white parents took their kids out of the school because they were scared of the protesters. The ones who left their kids at school were often attacked and threatened by people who were against integration.
What about the other kids who took the test?
Out of all the kids who took the test, six passed. Two of the kids decided not to integrate, but three other young girls did. They attended a different white school in New Orleans.
Was everyone against her?
Although the protesters were mean and violent, not everyone was against integration. Many people of all races supported Ruby and her family. They sent her gifts, notes of encouragement, and even money to help her parents pay the bills. People in her neighborhood supported the family by helping to babysit and even guarding the car as it drove to school.
After the First Grade
After the first grade, things became more normal for Ruby. She walked to school without the Federal Marshals and attended a full classroom that had both white and black students. She missed Mrs. Henry, but eventually got used to her new classroom and teacher. Ruby attended integrated schools all the way through high school.
Interesting Facts about Ruby Bridges
After graduating from high school, Ruby worked as a travel agent for fifteen years.
She married Malcolm Hall and had four sons.
In 2014, a statue of Ruby was unveiled outside the William Frantz School.
Ruby was later reunited as an adult with her former teacher Mrs. Henry.
She was awarded the Presidential Citizen's Medal in 2001 by President Bill Clinton.