Bridges was born in 1954, the same year that the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional. Although the court ordered schools to desegregate “with all deliberate speed”, there was significant opposition and some local school districts placed further legal obstacles in the way of segregation.

Despite her father’s initial reluctance to expose his daughter to the potential trouble that integration was expected to cause, six year-old Ruby Bridges was put forward for an academic entrance test to determine whether she should be allowed to attend the all-white William Frantz Elementary School. The school was situated just five blocks from her home in New Orleans, yet Bridges had previously needed to attend a segregated kindergarten a number of miles away.

Having passed the entrance exam, and with the school district unable to delay integration any longer, Ruby Bridges and her mother were driven the short distance to the school accompanied by four federal marshals. Crowds of protesters lined the streets and, with the threat of violence hanging over the young girl and her family, she spent the entire first day in the principal’s office.

Only one teacher at William Frantz Elementary agreed to teach Ruby and, although some white families that had boycotted the school slowly returned to classes, for an entire year Ruby was taught on her own. Outside school the Bridges family also experienced hardships including Ruby’s father being made redundant, but other members of the community rallied round to support them.

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© Scott Allsop