Through My Eyes Discussion Guide
- Grades: 3–5
About this book
A True Story
Ruby Bridges, born in Mississippi in 1954, became the center of a political storm of controversy when she was among the first black children to go to a previously all-white school in New Orleans. Ruby was only six years old when she started attending William Frantz Public School, accompanied by her mother and armed U.S Federal Marshals. The Marshals were necessary because angry mobs formed outside Ruby's school, shouting protests like "Two, four, six, eight. We don't want to integrate!" Many white people were outraged at the school's integration, and most white families pulled their children out of the school. Even the State legislature called for white families to boycott mixed schools. For a year, Ruby was separated from the other children and was the only child in her class. With the help of a loving teacher, Ruby made it through a difficult year and paved the way for many African American children who followed in her footsteps in integrated schools. Today, Ruby Bridges still fights for equal education for all children through her lectures and the Ruby Bridges Foundation.
The book Through My Eyes is an autobiography. In it, Ruby Bridges tells the story of an important chapter in her own life. Yet Ruby was only six years old when she became a pioneer. Others who are quoted help to tell her story, including her mother, Lucille Bridges, her teacher, Barbara Henry, and her child psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Coles. Quotes from newspapers and magazines also give a vivid depiction of the ugliness of the protests that took place. Do the quotations and photographs help you envision Ruby's life as it was when she started William Frantz School? Think about your own life now. If you were to write about it, who would you quote? Do you think quotes from others would help give the reader a fuller understanding of what your life is like?
New Orleans is best known as a popular tourist destination because of its good food, its unique music, and the famous Mardi Gras carnival. Indeed, Ruby's teacher, Barbara Henry, writes, "I thought New Orleans would be a romantic place, filled with southern hospitality." How did her experiences compare with her expectations?
Although the Supreme Court case ruled that segregation in schools was illegal in 1954, it took a court order, six years later, to integrate the schools in New Orleans. Do the news stories and photographs help you picture New Orleans as it was in 1960's? Do you think New Orleans was much different than the rest of the United States at that time?
Every day, Ruby Bridges had to pass an angry white mob when she went to school. This mob was angry simply because Ruby was a black girl who was going to an all white school. What does Ruby think of the crowd when she first starts school? How do you think Ruby's feelings about these people might have changed from the time she was a little girl to now? How do you think you would feel about these people, if they lived in your town?
People in Ruby's Life
Ruby's mother was eager for her daughter to have better educational opportunities. Her father, on the other hand, didn't want to have his daughter be one of the first black children in an all white school. Why do you think Ruby's father was reluctant for her to go to William Frantz? How do you think he felt when he lost his own job?
Ruby's first-grade teacher, Mrs. Barbara Henry, showed her own brand of courage when she braved possible danger from white extremists, the slights of other teachers, and a racist principal to continue teaching Ruby. She made Ruby feel special and helped her learn many things. Why do you think Barbara Henry fought to bring the white first-graders into the classroom with Ruby?
- Ruby saw and heard many awful things during the protests outside of her school. Why was the image of a black doll in a coffin particularly terrifying for Ruby?
- Norman Rockwell painted a picture showing Ruby escorted to school by Federal Marshals. The neatly dressed, pig-tailed little girl is passing a wall with an ugly racial epithet painted on it. Rockwell called this picture The Problem We All Live With. Why do you think Rockwell chose this title?
- William Frantz Public School, the once all-white school that Ruby integrated, is now a poorly funded school with mainly African American students. What do you think Ruby Bridges means when she writes, "the kids are being segregated all over again?"
- Ruby's life changed dramatically because a federal court had ordered two schools in New Orleans to admit black students. On page 55, there is a list of major events in the civil rights movement. What other court rulings and laws helped to change people's lives? Can you think of court rulings or laws that have affected your life?
- Ruby Bridges had to be brave in the face of extraordinary racism. Do you think that the same kind of racism exists today?