A Bookprint is the list of five books that leave an indelible mark on our lives, shaping who we are and who we become.
You are what you read.
On November 14, 1960, surrounded by armed US marshals, six-year-old Ruby Bridges integrated William Frantz Elementary in New Orleans. Many already know Ruby and her story. Norman Rockwell’s painting, “The Problem We All Live With,” remains a quintessential image of the Civil Rights Movement. John Steinbeck’s, Travels with Charley, also includes a description of Ruby walking past angry mobs to enter school. Robert Coles penned a 1995 book, The Story of Ruby Bridges, and soon after Walt Disney Home Entertainment produced a television movie based on her life. The movie received the honor of being screened in the White House, and on January 8, 2001 President Bill Clinton presented Ruby Bridges Hall with the Presidential Citizens Medal. In 1999, Ruby published her own award-winning memoir, Through My Eyes.
In addition, one of the world’s largest children’s museums, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, has focused on the importance of Ruby Bridge’s story and created a permanent exhibition entitled “The Power of Children,” which has become an icon of the museum. The exhibition takes visitors on a journey through the lives of three children who faced profound trials and emerged as heroes of the 20th century—Ruby Bridges, Anne Frank, and Ryan White. All three of these children’s stories exemplify Ruby's belief that every individual can make a difference.
As a lecturer, Ruby brings her message to children and adults nationwide. She also established the Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences through educational programs. A major focus of the foundation has been a program called Ruby’s Bridges, which connects students, parents, and educators from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The goal of the program is to build lasting relationships, which will allow individuals to transcend their differences and achieve racial reconciliation. One of the strategies of Ruby’s Bridges is to involve students in service learning projects that foster a sense of community responsibility. From planting trees and caring for the environment at state parks to working with others in need, the program has provided students with the skills to collaborate on meaningful causes. The ultimate goal of the foundation is to move first our children and then our society as a whole toward the elimination of racism and prejudice.
Ruby Nell Bridges was born in Tylertown, Mississippi in 1954, the same year as the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. Her grandparents were sharecroppers, but like many people in rural areas, Ruby’s family moved to New Orleans in search of better opportunities. Her father worked as a service station attendant and her mother took night jobs to help support the family. They lived in the front part of a large rooming house on France Street in the Florida neighborhood. Like the rest of the Ninth Ward, the Florida area was predominantly working class. While both whites and blacks lived in the neighborhood, residents were segregated by block. Of course the schools were segregated as well; though Ruby lived only five blocks from William Frantz Elementary, she had to walk much further to attend Johnson Lockett, the school reserved for African American students.
Ruby went on to finish grammar school at Frantz and to attend an integrated high school. After her parents divorced, Ruby’s mother was forced to move the family out of the house on Frantz Street and into the nearby Florida housing project. After graduating from high school, Ruby wanted to attend college, but she did not have anyone to guide her through the process. She later became a travel agent, married, and raised four sons.
In the early 1990s, Ruby’s youngest brother, Milton, was killed in a drug-related shooting. Though the incident was traumatic, it awakened in Ruby a social consciousness about the issues facing children and adults in urban areas. In particular, she began to put her past experiences into perspective. The fight for school integration was hard fought, and it represented an extremely significant milestone in the Civil Rights Movement. Sadly, here in New Orleans, as in other cities across the nation, the victory was short-lived. By the time Ruby began to volunteer at her alma mater, William Frantz, it had long since become segregated again. The neighborhood around the school had also deteriorated with increasing poverty and crime rates.
Inspired by her desire to help children achieve their hopes and dreams, the Ruby Bridges Foundation was established. The foundation began taking small steps to achieve a grand vision-- to provide children with an equal opportunity to succeed. Appropriately, the work began at Frantz,where the foundation started an after-school program featuring multicultural arts classes. Later, a program called Ruby’s Bridges was developed to promote cultural understanding through community service.