In Spring 1960, Ruby Bridges was one of several African-Americans in New Orleans to take a test to determine which children would be the first to attend integrated schools. Six students were chosen, however, two students decided to stay at their old school, and three were transferred to Mcdonough. Ruby was the only one assigned to William Frantz. Her father initially was reluctant, but her mother felt strongly that the move was needed not only to give her own daughter a better education, but to “take this step forward … for all African-American children.”
As soon as Bridges got into the school, white parents went in and brought their own children out; all teachers refused to teach while a black child was enrolled. They hired Barbara Henry, from Boston, Massachusetts, to teach Bridges, and for over a year Mrs. Henry taught her alone, “as if she were teaching a whole class.” That first day, Bridges and her adult companions spent the entire day in the principal’s office; the chaos of the school prevented their moving to the classroom until the second day. Every morning, as Bridges walked to school, one woman would threaten to poison her, because of this, the U.S. Marshals dispatched by President Eisenhower, who were overseeing her safety, only allowed Ruby to eat food that she brought from home. Another woman at the school put a black baby doll in a wooden coffin and protested with it outside the school, a sight that Bridges Hall has said “scared me more than the nasty things people screamed at us.” At her mother’s suggestion, Bridges began to pray on the way to school, which she found provided protection from the comments yelled at her on the daily walks.
The Bridges family suffered for their decision to send her to William Frantz Elementary: her father lost his job, and her grandparents, who were sharecroppers in Mississippi, were turned off their land. She has noted that many others in the community both black and white showed support in a variety of ways. Some white families continued to send their children to Frantz despite the protests, a neighbor provided her father with a new job, and local people babysat, watched the house as protectors, and walked behind the federal marshals’ car on the trips to school.
The effect desegregation had on education in the south was enormous. Desegregation was mandated federally, which was enough to ignite many problems with southerners whose ancestors lost to the federal government in the American Civil War. White parents pulled their kids out of the public schools in droves, and many new private schools were established. Others moved into more upscale suburbs, pulling their kids out of inner city school districts and putting them into majority white suburban districts. So, effectively, segregation was ended legally, but it would take many years for it to take effect.
Affluent white families never moved back to inner city districts, and if they did, their children were sent to private schools or an inner city school worthy of their child. So today, inner city schools have a huge proportion of minority students.
I really do admire this story. The threats that this family faced were enormous, but they continued to see that their daughter had a great education. I think her teacher, Mrs. Henry was probably quite an amazing person.