Today in Mighty Girl history, six-year-old Ruby Bridges walked into William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans surrounded by a team of U.S. Marshals; thus, becoming the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in the South. When Ruby arrived at school that first day in 1960, an event commemorated by Norman Rockwell in his famous painting "The Problem We All Live With," she was met by a vicious mob shouting and throwing objects at her.
One of the federal marshals, Charles Burks, who served on her escort team, recalls Ruby's courage in the face of such hatred: "For a little girl six years old going into a strange school with four strange deputy marshals, a place she had never been before, she showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn't whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier. We were all very proud of her."
Once Ruby entered the school, she discovered that it was devoid of children because they had all been removed by their parents due to Ruby's presence. The only teacher willing to have Ruby as a student was Barbara Henry, who had recently moved from Boston. Ruby was taught by herself for her first year at the school due to the white parents' boycott.
Despite daily harassment, which required the federal marshals to continue escorting her to school for months; threats towards her family; and her father's job loss due to his family's role in school integration, Ruby persisted in attending school. The following year, when she returned for second grade, the mobs were gone and more African-American students joined her at the school. The pioneering effort to integrate schools in the South was a success due to Ruby's amazing courage, perseverance, and resiliency.
If you'd like to share Ruby’s inspiring story with the children in your life, there are three excellent resources to help you do so, including the wonderful picture book The Story Of Ruby Bridges for readers 4 to 8 and the highly recommended memoir that Ruby Bridges wrote for young readers from 6 to 12 entitled Through My Eyes. Disney also made a terrific film about her story called Ruby Bridges for viewers 7 and up.
To give young readers more insight into the school integration struggle, Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison, has written an outstanding book, that's filled with photos capturing the major desegregation events of the period, entitled Remember: The Journey to School Integration -- recommended for ages 9 and up.
For more books about the Civil Rights Movement, visit our special feature on the Top Mighty Girl Books on Civil Rights History.