On the morning of November 14, 1960, Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old Black New Orleanian, took her first steps through the front door of William T. Frantz Elementary School (now Akili Academy). A mob of white people greeted Bridges with jeers and threatened to remove their children from Frantz Elementary if Bridges entered the premises. Bridges later described the loud mob’s roars as “being at Mardi Gras.” (1) Bridges did not understand what was happening that morning, only that she would be attending a new school.
Federal marshals escorted Bridges to school. Bridges did not go into a classroom the first day but remained in the principal’s office watching parents remove their children from the classrooms. (2) In addition to student withdrawals, teachers quit as they refused to teach African American children. One teacher remained to instruct Bridges. Once Bridges finally joined other students at play, she realized the reason for her isolation. Bridges attempted to make new friends; however, she was told by a fellow student that they were instructed by their parents not to play with her because of the color of her skin.
In 1999, Ruby Bridges formed The Ruby Bridges Foundation in New Orleans. The foundation’s mission is “to promote respect and equal treatment to all races.” (3) Through her foundation, Bridges attends public speaking engagements, hosts a virtual classroom and podcast, and she also has a book club. Bridges’ desire is to teach others how to overcome racism. Bridges is the subject of the Norman Rockwell painting, The Problem We All Live With, (4) and a movie made about the history-making event that shaped her life. Bridges visited the White House under former President Barack Obama’s administration when Rockwell’s painting was on display. President Obama, stated “I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be here today.” (5)
Bridges has two elementary schools named in her honor, one in Alameda, California, and the other in Woodinville, Washington. Bridges has a bronze statue dedicated in her honor at William T. Frantz Elementary (present day Akili Academy). (6)