Ruby Bridges was a young African-American girl who braved angry, racist crowds to become one of the first children to desegregate an all-white public school. This was one of the turning points in the Civil Rights movement, and she played a significant role in the changes that followed. Introducing this story to your students will impart a lesson on how one act of courage can exert a positive impact on the world.
Personal Background Information
Ruby Bridges was an African American girl born in Tylertown, Mississippi, on September 8, 1954. The Bridges family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, four years later. When she was 6-years old, the decision of where to send her to school became a topic of discussion between her parents. Her father was concerned for her safety and wanted her to attend an all-black school. Her mother, on the other hand, focused on the education potential and wanted her to get the best education Ruby could get, which she believed was at an all-white school.
Overview of Segregation
During this time, there was a lot of inequality, discrimination, racism and separation. White and black people didn’t go to the same schools, ride in the same sections of the bus, use the same bathroom or drink from the same water fountain. It was common to see signs “Colored” and “White” to indicate which race could use the item or area. If a black tried to use the items labeled as “White,” the individual would be met with threats and possibly with physical violence.
Ruby Bridge's Significance
As part of the Civil Rights movement, a judge ordered Ruby Bridges to do something that was unheard of at the time. On November 14, 1960, Ruby was one of six black children assigned to desegregate all-white schools in the New Orleans area. She attended Frantz Elementary School. As she walked to school that first day escorted by federal marshals, police and barricades were set up to keep the group of whites back so Ruby could get to school. These people yelled angry words and held up picket signs. Many whites kept their children home so they wouldn’t have to attend with Ruby. Things turned so ugly, the school finally gave Ruby a classroom all to herself, where she was taught by a kind teacher named Mrs. Barbara Henry. Ruby persevered throughout and eventually graduated.
Rounding Out the Lesson
Finish this lesson with an open-ended group discussion. Ask your students how they feel about segregation and racism. List examples of inequalities that you still see in the world today. Talk about tolerance, and clearly point out that discrimination of any kind will not be allowed in the classroom. Discuss how educational opportunities are not the same around the world and how some have to fight for the right to get a good education.
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