|"The Problem We All Live With" by Norman Rockwell (1964)|
I had the chance to hear Ms. Bridges speak at the Tampa Museum of Art last week in conjunction with an exhibit of Norman Rockwell's art. Her words were moving and inspirational.
When integration finally loomed in New Orleans, segregationists worked to devise ways to keep the black children out of their schools. The first step to gain eligibility to attend a white school was to pass a written test. (I haven't been able to find out the content of the test, but I do know this wasn't a requirement for the white kids.) Approximately 130 children took the test, and only six passed. Ruby was one of those children.
And so, after much debate between her parents, it was decided that Ruby would go to the all white William Franz Public School. At the time the decision was made, two other little girls from her neighborhood were scheduled to attend with her. They dropped out, however, leaving Ruby as the sole black student in the school.
Ruby and her mother were escorted into the school and to the principal's office. The office had windows, and she could see lots of adults coming into the building and leaving with their children. "College is a busy place," she thought. The reality was that the parents were taking their kids out of school in protest. While everyone knew that two New Orleans schools were to be integrated that day, nobody knew which ones. At the end of the day, Ruby was the only child at William Franz.
|Barbara Henry and Ruby|
It was a lonely time for Ruby, but she and Mrs. Henry became best friends. They never missed a day of school. Eventually, Mrs. Henry realized there were four other first graders being taught in a separate classroom. She had to threaten the principal in order to get the classes combined (and then it was only for part of the day). Ruby finally had some classmates and, over time, friends.
By the time Ruby entered second grade, first and second grades in all the New Orleans schools were integrated. It still wasn't easy, but, as Bob Dillon sang, "The times they [were] a-changing." As current events show, however, we still have a long way to go.