"If it hadn't been for you guys, I might not be here..."
August 25, 2011 11:46 AM   Subscribe

"If it hadn't been for you guys, I might not be here..." On November 14, 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges walked by a mob surrounding William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, becoming the first African-American child to integrate a white elementary school in the South.

Her walk that morning was commemorated by Norman Rockwell, in his painting The Problem We All Live With, which was published on the cover of Look magazine on January 14, 1964. Fifty years later, Ruby Bridges got a chance to visit the building where the painting now hangs and met with the guy who has the office next door.
posted by longdaysjourney (15 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I somehow expected Ruby to look older. The fact that she still seems quite young really drives home how *recent* the event was.

It's sobering.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:51 AM on August 25, 2011 [12 favorites]

I can't get over the fact that she was so young. She (and her parents) were so brave it takes my breath away.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:56 AM on August 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Normal Rockwell is sublime.
posted by resurrexit at 12:10 PM on August 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

One of the episodes of Eyes on the Prize is about school desegregation. You should be able to get it from your public library. It's well worth watching if you haven't seen it. Did you know, for instance that Virginia, yes Virginia, shut down public schools rather than desegregate?
posted by mareli at 12:19 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's interesting that Rockwell is so often seen as representing American conservationism. He was friends with Erik Erickson and Robert Coles (Coles profiled Ruby Bridges for The Atlantic Monthly, as well as wrote a children's book about her, and was a fierce advocate of desegregation), and his third wife, Molly Punderson, was liberal to the point of activism. "The Problem We All Live With" wasn't Rockwell's only painting concerning Civil Rights -- he later did the even more striking "Southern Justice" after the murder of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney in Mississippi.

He painted what looks to be an optimistic followup to the Ruby Bridges painting, "Negro in the Suburbs." I'd like to think that this is how Rockwell saw Ruby Bridges a few years after her famous walk -- as starting to become accepted as just another kid. That wasn't exactly what happened, but the Bridges family found supporters, as Wikipedia summarizes: "Some white families continued to send their children to Frantz despite the protests, a neighbor provided her father with a new job, and local people babysat, watched the house as protectors, and walked behind the federal marshals' car on the trips to school."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:37 PM on August 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

conservationism? Conservativism is what I meant.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:04 PM on August 25, 2011

Did you know, for instance that Virginia, yes Virginia, shut down public schools rather than desegregate?
As a nonwhite product of Virginia public schools: ick. And yes, thanks Ruby.
posted by sweetkid at 1:22 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

No six-year-old should have to run the gauntlet of an angry, racist mob the way she did. But just think what our country would be like if she hadn't.
posted by tommasz at 1:45 PM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Was about to ask what she is doing today, but found her website. She continues to fight racism through lectures and discussions with schools around the country.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:50 PM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I somehow expected Ruby to look older.

Yeah, if you'd asked me if she was younger or older than my Mom (I'm about 30), I'd have sold "older," but she's not.
posted by Jahaza at 2:51 PM on August 25, 2011

Cut and pasted from a comment I made in a previous thread:

John Steinbeck describing one scene of school desegregation in New Orleans, in Travels with Charley:
While I was still in Texas, late in 1960, the incident most reported and pictured in the newspapers was the matriculation of a couple of tiny Negro children in a New Orleans school. Behind these small dark mites were the law's majesty and the law's power to enforce -- both the scales and the sword were allied with the infants -- while against them were three hundred years of fear and anger and terror of change in a changing world. . . .

No newspaper had printed the words these women shouted. It was indicated that they were indelicate, some even said obscene. . . . But now I heard the words, bestial and filthy and degenerate. In a long and unprotected life I have seen and heard the vomitings of demoniac humans before. Why then did these screams fill me with a shocked and sickened sorrow?

. . . Here was no spontaneous cry of anger, of insane rage. . . . [They] hungered for attention. . . . Theirs was the demented cruelty of egocentric children, and somehow this made their insensate beastliness much more heartbreaking.

. . . I knew something was wrong and distorted and out of drawing. I knew New Orleans, I have over the years had many friends there, thoughtful, gentle people, with a tradition of kindness and courtesy. . . . Where were the others . . . the ones whose arms would ache to gather up a small, scared, black mite?

I don't know where they were. Perhaps they felt as helpless as I did, but they left New Orleans misrepresented to the world. The crowd, no doubt, rushed home to see themselves on television, and what they saw went out all over the world, unchallenged by the other things I know are there.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:03 PM on August 25, 2011 [8 favorites]

The superb Indianapolis Children's Museum has an exhibit called The Power of Children that spotlights the struggles of young people against prejudices. Two of the three are Ryan White and Anne Frank (which is why I sometimes privately refer to the exhibit as "The Power of Dead Children"), while the third is Ruby Bridges.

The exhibit, and the museum as a whole (sepecially the 100-proof awesomeness of the Dinosphere) carries my highest recommendation.
posted by Gelatin at 3:54 PM on August 25, 2011

A few years ago she visited my daughter's school. How cool it is to have a picture of my daughter standing next to Ms. Bridges. The class sang songs for her and she visited with the class and talked of her experience. Gave me the chills it was all so beautiful and courageous.
posted by Sassyfras at 3:54 PM on August 25, 2011

She seems so sweet. How amazing to go through all that and still have a sweet spirit.
posted by sweetkid at 7:42 PM on August 25, 2011

The Disney movie about Ruby Bridges is really good, if you enjoy crying.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:54 AM on August 26, 2011

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