Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ruby Bridges Hall

The awesome woman for December 21, 2011 is Ruby Bridges Hall, U.S. educational activist whose career began 51 years ago, at the age of six, when her parents signed her up to be the first African American child to attend a white school in the South.

Because she was only 6 years old, she had no clue what the fuss was about as four federal marshals escorted her to William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans on November 14, 1960. She thought it was Mardi Gras.

And when she got to school, the other parents had already rushed the building and removed their children. Ruby was put in the principal's office and told to just sit there. "I remember thinking, 'This school is easy,'" Bridges told AOL News. Id.

From, Ms. Bridges (now known as Ruby Bridges Hall) writes: Later on I learned there had been protestors in front of the two integrated schools the whole day. They wanted to be sure white parents would boycott the school and not let their children attend. Groups of high school boys, joining the protestors, paraded up and down the street and sang new verses to old hymns. Their favorite was "Battle Hymn of the Republic," in which they changed the chorus to "Glory, glory, segregation, the South will rise again." Many of the boys carried signs and said awful things, but most of all I remember seeing a black doll in a coffin, which frightened me more than anything else.

The local teachers refused to have anything to do with teaching Ruby, so the school brought down Barbara Henry from Boston. Initially, Ruby was apprehensive about Ms. Henry:

"Before that day, being black, I was only accustomed to seeing black teachers -- not to mention that she looked exactly like all of the people outside who were screaming and yelling outside," Bridges says. "But soon after, she began to teach me, and I realized she was one of the nicest teachers I had ever had. She showed me her heart, and she was totally different from the people that were outside, angry and screaming. AOL News article, supra.

In spite of Ms. Henry's best efforts, the school year was a difficult one for Ruby. She had trouble eating and sleeping, and every morning one of the white parents protesting outside the school threatened to poison her.

Eventually, a few white kids came back to the school, and Ruby, who still knew nothing about racism or integration, was allowed to visit with them a couple of times. She writes: The light dawned one day when a little boy refused to play with me.

"I can't play with you," the boy said. "My mama said not to because you're a n-----."

At that moment, it all made sense to me. I finally realized that everything had happened because I was black. I remember feeling a little stunned. It was all about the color of my skin. I wasn't angry at the boy, because I understood. His mother had told him not to play with me, and he was obeying her. I would have done the same thing. If my mama said not to do something, I didn't do it.

Ruby's second grade year was far less dramatic. White students had returned to the school, and Ruby went to a regular classroom She walked to school by herself every day, and she finished grade school on schedule, later graduating from an integrated high school in New Orleans.

She worked as a travel agent, married, had children, and became a full-time stay-at-home mom to her four sons. But, in 1993, her youngest brother was murdered, and Ruby began taking care of his children, who went to William Frantz Elementary School, where Ruby became a parent-community liaison. Id.

At the same time, the adults who had been involved with Ruby's first year at William Frantz, began reconnecting with Ruby, who, in 1999, formed the Ruby Bridges Foundation, the purpose of which is to end racism and prejudice. The foundations motto is, "Racism is a grown-up disease. Let's stop using kids to spread it." Id.

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