Come Meet Ruby Bridges: Or, How We’re Exploring Civil Rights, Childhood Courage in our Homeschool

Although I was familiar with Norman Rockwell’s classic image, The Problem We All Live With, I confess that it wasn’t until I moved to Louisiana as an adult that I came to fully understand Ruby Bridges and her story.

It’s a moving tale, for sure. And it touches upon several topics, including civil rights, faith, perseverance, and that bravery can be found in very young children.

Wikipedia relates what happened to her nicely:

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.”

The court-ordered first day of integrated schools in New Orleans, November 14, 1960, was commemorated by Norman Rockwell in the painting The Problem We All Live With. As Bridges describes it, “Driving up I could see the crowd, but living in New Orleans, I actually thought it was Mardi Gras. There was a large crowd of people outside of the school. They were throwing things and shouting, and that sort of goes on in New Orleans at Mardi Gras.” Former United States Deputy Marshal Charles Burks later recalled, “She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we’re all very proud of her.”

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 BostonMassachusetts, 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. [Read more]

Here at home, we stumbled into telling Ruby’s story this year when our son became curious about MLK, Jr. thanks to a news report. Wanting to find ways to illustrate for him what life was like for children who lived in the era, I set out to find age-appropriate media on Miss Bridges.

We settled on this book, {Amazon Affiliate Link} The Story of Ruby Bridges:

And this film:

(See these and other civil rights books we explored on Amazon )

Our young pupil preferred the book to the movie, perhaps because the illustrations in the book were so engaging.  (We read before watching, to be prepared for the more intense dialogue.) Yet the book and flick worked beautifully in tandem. Young Ruby’s resolve, dedication, patience and prayerful courage have really struck a chord in all of us. (I keep meaning to write a post about how that, just because we define our homeschool as “secular,” it doesn’t mean that the issue of faith never comes up. Maybe in March? I dunno.)

I’m curious about your home. How do (or did) you teach your children about civil rights? Do you tie it to issues of faith and courage? Social justice? Do tell here or over on Facebook.

For image sources on this post,  click the image.

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2 comments

  1. My daughter, now 12, was attending private school when Rosa Parks died 6 years ago. Her first-grade teacher used the opportunity to teach the kids about Jim Crow, civil rights, and brave women. Natalie, my daughter, was very moved by the whole learning experience, and has considered Rosa Parks to be one of her heroes ever since.

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