BIOGRAPHY

Ruby Bridges Biography: Civil Rights Activism, Books, Family, Net Worth, Life History

Ruby Bridges Biography: Civil Rights Activism, Books, Family, Net Worth, Life History
Written by Ask AllBioHub

Ruby Bridges Hall, born on September 8, 1954, is known as an American civil rights activist.

She made history as the initial African American student to enroll at the previously all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana amidst the New Orleans school desegregation turmoil on November 14, 1960.

Norman Rockwell‘s 1964 painting, The Problem We All Live With, portrays her story.

Ruby Bridges Biography: Civil Rights Activism, Books, Family, Net Worth, Life History

Born
Ruby Nell Bridges

September 8, 1954 (age 69)

Occupation(s) Philanthropist, activist
Website www.rubybridges.com

Ruby Bridges Early Life

Bridges, born in Tylertown, Mississippi, was the oldest among her four siblings.

Throughout her childhood, she not only took care of her younger brothers and sisters but also found joy in activities like playing jump rope, softball, and climbing trees. At the age of four, her family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana.

In 1960, when she turned six, her parents, despite her father’s initial reluctance, responded to a request from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and offered her as a volunteer to participate in the integration of the New Orleans school system.

Ruby Bridges Background

Bridges was born in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Brown v. Board of Education was decided just over three months before Bridges’ birth.

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The court’s decision stated that segregating public schools for white children, while excluding black children, was against the constitution.

As a result, black students were allowed to attend these schools. Despite the finalization of the Brown v.

Board of Education decision in 1954, southern states strongly resisted the integration mandate within the six-year timeframe. Many white individuals opposed school integration, and even though it was a federal ruling, state governments failed to enforce the new laws. In 1957, federal troops were sent to Little Rock, Arkansas, to protect the Little Rock Nine students from violence stemming from the decision.

Facing pressure from the federal government, the Orleans Parish School Board conducted an entrance exam at Bridges’ school in an attempt to prevent black children from entering white schools.

Ruby Bridges Integration

In 1959, Bridges enrolled in a segregated kindergarten. However, in early 1960, she was among the six black children in New Orleans who successfully passed the test to attend the all-white William Frantz Elementary School.

While two of the children chose to remain at their previous school, Bridges bravely went to Frantz alone.

The remaining three children, Gail Etienne, Leona Tate, and Tessie Prevost, were transferred to the all-white McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School. On their first day at the respective schools, all four 6-year-old girls were accompanied by federal marshals for their safety.

Throughout that year, the federal marshals continued to escort them to ensure their protection.

Bridges’ father hesitated at first, while her mother strongly believed that the relocation was necessary not only to provide her own daughter with a better education, but also to “take this step forward … for all African-American children”.

Eventually, her mother managed to persuade her father to allow her to attend the school.

Judge J. Skelly Wright’s court order for the first day of integrated schools in New Orleans on Monday, November 14, 1960, was immortalized by Norman Rockwell in the painting, The Problem We All Live With (featured in Look magazine on January 14, 1964).

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Bridges recalls, “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 remembered, “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 very proud of her.”

The Bridges family faced numerous challenges after deciding to enroll her at William Frantz Elementary School: her father was dismissed from his job as a gas station attendant; the family was no longer allowed to shop at their usual grocery store; her grandparents, who were sharecroppers in Mississippi, were evicted from their land; and Abon and Lucille Bridges went their separate ways.

Bridges has acknowledged the support she received from various members of the community, both black and white.

Despite the protests, some white families continued to send their children to Frantz, a neighbor helped her father find a new job, and local residents provided babysitting services, acted as protectors, and even walked behind the federal marshals’ car during the trips to school.

It wasn’t until Bridges reached adulthood that she discovered the origin of the immaculate clothing she wore during her initial weeks at Frantz – they were sent by a relative of Coles.

Bridges mentioned that her family would not have been able to afford the dresses, socks, and shoes depicted in the photographs of her escorted journeys to and from school by U.S. Marshals.

Ruby Bridges Adult

As of 2004, Ruby Bridges Hall, formerly known as Bridges, resided in New Orleans with her spouse, Malcolm Hall, and their four children.

Following her graduation from a desegregated high school, she worked as a travel agent for 15 years before transitioning to a full-time parenting role.

Currently, she serves as the chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, established in 1999 to advocate for the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of diversity.

She emphasizes that “racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.”

Bridges is the inspiration behind the Lori McKenna song “Ruby’s Shoes”.

Her challenging childhood experiences at William Frantz Elementary School were depicted in the 1998 TV movie Ruby Bridges.

The role of young Bridges was portrayed by actress Chaz Monet, with Lela Rochon as Bridges’ mother, Lucille “Lucy” Bridges; Michael Beach as Bridges’ father, Abon Bridges; Penelope Ann Miller as Bridges’ teacher, Mrs. Henry; and Kevin Pollak as Dr. Robert Coles.

Similar to many others in the New Orleans region, Bridges faced the loss of her home in Eastern New Orleans due to the devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The hurricane also inflicted severe damage on William Frantz Elementary School, prompting Bridges to actively campaign for the school’s preservation.

In November 2007, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis introduced a new permanent exhibit chronicling Bridges’ life, as well as the stories of Anne Frank and Ryan White.

The exhibit, titled “The Power of Children: Making a Difference”, required a $6 million investment for its installation and features an authentic recreation of Bridges’ first-grade classroom.

In 2010, Bridges reunited with Pam Foreman Testroet at William Frantz Elementary for a 50th-year commemoration. Testroet, who was the first white child to defy the boycott following Bridges’ enrollment at the school, joined Bridges in reflecting on their shared history.

Bridges had a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on July 15, 2011.

While they were admiring the Norman Rockwell painting of her on display, he expressed his gratitude by saying, “I believe it is accurate to say that without your efforts, I may not be in this position today, and we wouldn’t be sharing this moment together.”

The Rockwell artwork was exhibited in the West Wing of the White House, near the Oval Office, from June to October 2011.

Ruby Bridges Awards and Nomination

In September of 1995, Bridges and Robert Coles were granted honorary degrees from Connecticut College and made their first public appearance together to accept the accolades.

Bridges’ book Through My Eyes was the recipient of the Carter G. Woodson Book Award in 2000.

Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Ruby Bridges as an Honorary Deputy U.S. Marshal on August 10, 2000, marking the 40th anniversary of her historic walk into William Frantz Elementary School.

President Bill Clinton awarded Bridges the Presidential Citizens Medal on January 8, 2001.

In November 2006, Bridges was recognized as a “Hero Against Racism” at the 12th annual Anti-Defamation League “Concert Against Hate” with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Tulane University bestowed an honorary degree upon Bridges during the annual graduation ceremony at the Superdome on May 19, 2012.

On November 9, 2023, Bridges was presented with the Robert Coles Call of Service Award by the Phillips Brooks House Association at Harvard University, where she also delivered a lecture at Memorial Church.

Two elementary schools have been named after Bridges, one in Alameda, California, and another in Woodinville, Washington. Additionally, a statue of Bridges is located in the courtyard of William Frantz Elementary School.

When asked about the statue’s impact on children, Bridges expressed her hope that it would inspire them to believe in their ability to achieve greatness and make a difference in the world.

Published works

 

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