Ruby Bridges was a 6-year-old freshman when she walked past mocking crowds of white people to become one of the first black students in racially segregated schools in New Orleans more than six decades ago. Now, with teaching about race in America more complicated than ever, she’s authored a picture book about her experience for younger readers.
Bridges, along with three other black students from another school, were the first to enter what had been all-white schools in New Orleans in 1960.
“I Am Ruby Bridges,” with art by Nikkolas Smith, goes on sale Tuesday. Published by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., it is aimed at readers ages 4 and up.
Accompanied by a glossary including the words “Supreme Court” and “law,” the book is an uplifting story about opportunity and kids who can make a difference, Bridges said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“It’s a true reflection of what happened through my own eyes,” she said.
But books by or about bridges have been challenged by conservatives in several school districts amid complaints about race-related teaching. Bridges said she hopes the new book will end up in elementary school libraries.
“I’ve been very, very lucky with the way I tell my story. My babies come in all shapes and colors, and my books are bestsellers, and maybe banned from schools,” said she declared. “But I think parents really want to move past our racial differences. They are going to get these books.
Bridges was born in 1954, the same year the United States Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. Southern school districts, including New Orleans, continued to resist integration for years.
But on Nov. 14, 1960, Bridges—carrying a plaid satchel and wearing a white sweater—was escorted by four federal marshals past a defiant white crowd into William Frantz Elementary School. The scene was made famous by Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Trouble We All Live With,” which hung in the White House near the Oval Office during former President Barack Obama’s tenure.
The theme of the book plays on the author’s name: “Ruby” is a precious stone, and “Bridges” is meant to bring people together. Told with a touch of humor from the perspective of a first-grader, the book captures the wonder of Bridges’ experience — rather than just the fear of that noisy first day at school.
“It really looks like Mardi Gras to me, but they don’t throw pearls. What’s a Mardi Gras without pearls? Bridges writes.
The only parade that day was outside the school. White parents immediately began withdrawing their children, so Bridges spent the entire year alone with white teacher Barbara Henry, who is still alive and a “best friend,” Bridges said. Henry’s acceptance and kindness during a difficult time taught him an important lesson, she said.
“It’s made me a person who has no prejudice at all. And I feel like that little girl is still inside me, and it’s my calling to make sure kids understand that you can’t look at someone and judge them,” Bridges said.
Elsewhere in New Orleans, on the same day Bridges went to school, Gail Etienne, Leona Tate and Tessie Prevost entered the previously all-white McDonogh Elementary School No. 19.
Bridges, a native of Mississippi, still lives in metro New Orleans and has authored or co-authored five books. Two years ago, she published “This Is Your Time”, which is aimed at older children than her new book.
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