On November 14, 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges made history when she integrated William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Her boldness in the face of white supremacy launched her into the national spotlight as an icon of the burgeoning Civil Rights movement. Bridge's face beamed with possibilities as she was accompanied by U.S. Marshals in the footage of their historic moment,
Recalling her early days as a trailblazer for desegregation, Bridges explained the culture shock she experienced being the only Black student in the school and having to be the only student in her class for an entire year.
“When I arrived at my classroom, my new teacher opens the door and greets me. 'Hi. I'm Mrs. Henry, your teacher. Come in and take a seat', she says. And aren't I surprised because she is also white? I never had a white teacher before,” she told NPR. “The biggest surprise of all—I am the only kid in the class. I didn't see any other kids at all—not one. That test must have been a lot harder than I thought. Why am I the only kid in my class, not to mention the only kid in the whole school? Why don't I see anyone who looks like me? And then that's when it hit me.”
In 1964, the moment was forever immortalized with the painting, The Problem We All Live With, by Norman Rockwell.
Eventually, Bridges graduated from the desegregated high school, and would later become a successful travel agent, a wife, and the mother of four sons.
In the mid-90s, she reunited with her teacher Mrs. Henry and they did speaking engagements together.
When a group of AAA School Safety Patrollers from Martin Elementary in South San Francisco heard Bridge’s story, they lobbied the State Legislature to honor her legacy. Inspired by her bravery, the students helped to establish the Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day which is recognized by the state of California on November 14 each year.
For her history-making work as an activist, Bridges has received numerous awards and honors. She was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton in 2001. She is the recipient of the Carter G. Woodson Book Award for writing her life story. She also received an Honorary Degree from Tulane University in 2012.
Two elementary schools are named after Bridges: one in Alameda, California, and another in Woodinville, Washington.
William Frantz Elementary School honored Bridges with a statue that stands on the school grounds.
At 68, Bridges is still in the fight against racism. In 1999, she started the Ruby Bridges Foundation. She also wrote a new children's book, I Am Ruby Bridges.
She believes that children hold the key to breaking the power of racism in America
"There's a message that I often leave with kids, and it's that racism has no place in the hearts and minds of our children," Bridges said. "If we're going to get past our racial differences, I believe it's going to come from our kids."