Guest Lecture by Ruby Bridges

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It is an amazing experience to hear from a Civil Rights icon and American hero, which is why hundreds of students and patrons lined outside the BYU Museum of Art on Thursday, November 19, for the chance to hear from Ruby Bridges. At the young age of six, Ruby Bridges was one of the first African-American students to be integrated into white schools. Her act of bravery at such a young age inspired many, including Norman Rockwell, when he decided to use her as the primary subject of his painting The Problem We All Live With.

Here is the story that she shared with us during her lecture:

Ruby was only six at the time of the integration, and did not completely understand the consequences of this change from her regular school to the all-white school. While her father had reservations about the change, Ruby explained that her mother was told that the opportunity would give her children an opportunity to go to college. Ruby said, “And that was all my mother needed to hear.”

Ruby recounted her experiences with great detail: “All my parents told me that morning was, ‘Ruby, you are going to a new school today and you d better behave yourself. So that s what I was concentrating on!” Ruby was driven to school in a car, accompanied by U.S. Marshals. When she got out of the car and walked down the sidewalk to the school, she saw the mobs of people lining the street. Not knowing what the shouting was about, Ruby thought to herself, “It s Mardi Gras – I m in a parade!”

As Ruby entered the school, the white parents from outside flooded in after her, pulling out their children from every classroom. Ruby would be the only child to attend her school that year. Throughout the whole year, her only friend was her teacher, Ms. Henry. This brave teacher had come from Boston to teach Ruby, because all of the teachers in the school had quit their jobs when they learned of the de-segregation. “I had never seen a white teacher before,” Ruby explained in her lecture. “She looked exactly like the people outside, people that seemed angry… but she was not like them.”

Day after day, Ruby would come to school looking for the other kids, wanting to make friends. “That is the most important thing to a 6 year old, making friends,” Ruby said in her presentation. It turns out that a few white children had been attending the school secretly – they had been hidden from her. When Ruby first met one of the other children, one of the boys told her that his mother would not allow him to play with her.

Looking back on the experiences that year, Ruby says that she still doesn t quite understand it all, reasoning that the white parents who formed the mobs and threatened her that year didn t see her as a child. “I think what they saw is what they thought they were giving up – fear of what was changing,” Ruby explained. She said, “Is that the case today? Are we afraid of what might change, what we might lose, what we are giving up?” This issue of racism is still alive today and we are still fighting it. “We have got to come together,” said Ruby. “We have got to fight the evil. I know we can win.”

Image: Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), The Problem We All Live With, 1963, oil on canvas, 36 x 58 inches. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections.