Ruby Nell Bridges made history as a six-year-old entering first grade in 1960 when she became the first African American student to desegregate a formerly all-white school in New Orleans.
Ruby was born on September 8, 1954, in Tylertown, Miss. Her parents, Lucille and Abon Bridges, moved their family to New Orleans in search of better opportunities for Bridges and her three younger siblings.
In 1959, Bridges attended an all-black school in New Orleans. At the time, all New Orleans schools were segregated, even though the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education required public schools to desegregate. In 1960, a federal court ordered New Orleans public schools to desegregate.
On November 14, 1960, federal marshals escorted Bridges and her mother to William Frantz Elementary School for Ruby”s first day of school. Angry white protestors lined the streets and shouted threats. The moment became the subject of the famous painting “The Problem We All Must Live With” by Norman Rockwell.
Because white parents didn”t want their children in class with an African American student, Bridges spent her first year at William Frantz alone with her teacher, Barbara Henry. The following year, tensions had cooled, and Bridges was in a second-grade class of both African American and white students. Bridges finished her elementary school education at William Frantz, and then attended an integrated high school. She went to business school in Kansas City, studying travel and tourism, and worked as a travel agent for fifteen years. She married Malcolm Hall in 1984 and eventually became a full-time parent to raise their four sons in her hometown of New Orleans.
In 1999, Bridges established the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which focuses on promoting tolerance and racial equity through education. Today, she travels around the United States talking about her childhood experiences, explaining how new forms of segregation and systemic inequality persist in American public schools, and encouraging parents to be more active in the education of their children.
Bridges wrote several books about her childhood, including her memoir, Through My Eyes, and two books for younger students: Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story and Let”s Read About Ruby Bridges, a Scholastic First Biography.
Find teaching plans and resources about Ruby Bridges” story and school integration, as well as an interactive student page, Ruby Bridges: A Simple Act of Courage.