Uniting Kids Against Racism
Ruby Bridges's Contributions Paved the Way for Obama
Scholastic Kid Reporter Madison Hartke-Weber with author Ruby Bridges in Washington, D.C., Sunday, January 18, 2008. (Photo courtesy Madison Hartke-Weber)
On the day before Barack Obama's inauguration, author Ruby Bridges has good advice for his daughters who are now in the spotlight: "Don't pay a lot of attention to that attention. Stay humble and think about the contributions you can make to your community."
She should know. In 1960, when she was in first grade, Ruby Bridges integrated the New Orleans public schools. She was the first black child to attend the all-white William Frantz Public School, spending that entire first year alone in a classroom with only her teacher, because the principal kept her separated from the white students. She also had to be escorted to and from school by federal marshals so that angry protesters who stood outside the school each day could not hurt her.
On the Martin Luther King holiday, the day before the presidential inauguration, Ms. Bridges was at the Inaugural Fest in Washington, D.C., signing copies of her book Through My Eyes. The book tells the story of that first year going to school at William Frantz.
Bridges is very excited about the coming inauguration. "It's so cool that this is happening right now," she said. "It makes me think about my contributions and the sacrifices that my parents made and those of so many others, both black and white. It proves that all of these sacrifices have not been made in vain."
Through My Eyes is about the many sacrifices that Bridges and others made to integrate public schools in the South. She says that what she did so long ago had an impact on this election.
"Before I walked through the school doors in 1960, African-Americans didn't have the right to choose which school they wanted to attend," she said. "After that walk, we were entitled to an equal education. That allowed Barack Obama to have the kind of education that he had and then become President."
Bridges created the Ruby Bridges Foundation in 1999 to "help unite kids against racism." She worked on this goal with her former teacher Barbara Henry, who was the only teacher at William Frantz willing to teach a black student. Other teachers refused to talk to her and the principal did not invite Henry to come teach again at the school after that year.
Henry and Bridges were reunited on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1996; it had been 35 years since they had seen each other, and they saw it as an opportunity to help people learn from Ruby's story.
Bridges now works to teach kids about how they can help end racism.
"Always remember to reach out to the next person, create an opportunity to get to know one another, never judge another person by the color of their skin, and, most of all, give somebody a chance," she said.
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Madison Hartke-Weber is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.