1. Born at a Time of Landmark Ruling
Ruby Bridges was born in 1954 in Mississippi’s Tylertown. In the year of her birth, the landmark decision allowing school integration was made in Brown versus Board of Education case. Her grandparents sharecropped in Mississippi but her parents sought better opportunities in New Orleans. Her family lived in the predominant working class Florida neighborhood on France Street. Ruby was the first child of African-American descent in American South to attend a white public school.
2. Segregation by Block
Though both blacks and whites lived in the Florida neighborhood, there was segregation of residents by block. Schools in this area were also segregated. Ruby was forced to walk far to attend an African American school despite the fact that William Frantz Elementary was only five blocks from her home.
3. Integration of Schools delayed 5 years after the Brown Ruling
Ruby joined kindergarten 5 years after the Brown court ruling. At the time, most states in the Southern U.S. region had not made an effort to comply with the decision to integrate schools. Instead, most local and state governments participated actively in campaigns to massively avoid compliance with the Brown ruling. In some states, governors opted to close schools down instead of integrating them. In Orleans Parish, a small majority of parents in 1960 preferred public schools remain open once integrated.
4. Support for Integration
The student population in public schools was 60% African American and so parents supported integration overwhelmingly. White parents were strongly against desegregation with 12,229 surveyed white parents opting for closure and 2,707 agreeing to desegregation. The School Board in Orleans Parish refused to consider white parents’ opinion but an order by the US District Court forced the board to comply with minimal integration.
5. Introduction of Racist Laws
The Louisiana legislature held a few special sittings and passed a whole lot of repressive laws. They included banning tax money and paychecks for integrated schools and their teachers. The laws were declared unconstitutional by the federal court. The School Board at Orleans Parish received 137-transfer to integrated school applications from first grade students. Only a few girls were selected, one of them was Ruby Bridges. 3 girls joined McDonogh No. 19 while Ruby went to William Frantz Elementary.
6. Escorts by Federal Marshals
Ruby was offered protection by federal marshals to school and throughout the day, angry white parents withdrew their kids from school. The crowd protesting outside the school grew louder and larger as news about Ruby’s presence in the school spread. The Council of white citizens met the following day and their leaders called for boycotts and protests to resist school integration. Following the protests, 250 people were arrested, no white rioter was arrested.
7. Racist Chants
Each morning more than 40 women called ‘cheerleaders’ shouted racist threats and obscene words at Ruby as went into Frantz Elementary. In isolation, Mrs. Barbara Henry, her teacher instructed her. She ate lunch from the classroom alone each day and the marshals escorted her to the restroom. In 1961, full school integration was enforced.
8. Abolishing Pupil Placement
The token integration allowed only 12 African-American pupils in six integrated schools. The law was designed to ensure only a few of them made it through the transfer screening procedure. Later, the School Board at Orleans Parish was forced to do away with the placement law and extend integration of higher grades. By 1964, only 809 pupils of African American descent had joined white schools.
9. After School
Ruby completed high school and wanted to join college. However, she didn’t get guidance on attending college. She worked as a travel agent, got married and raised her four sons.
10. Civil Rights Activist
After the killing of her youngest brother in drug related shooting, Ruby became conscious about adult and children issues in urban areas. She established Ruby Bridges Foundation to help kids achieve their dreams and hopes.