By: Gisselle Venable
When it comes to influential Black historical figures, the general image is an adult fighting against oppression…not a child. But in 1960, at the age of just six, Ruby Bridges became the first African American student to attend an all-White elementary school in the south.
Although racial segregation in public schools was illegal in the north, several states in the south still resisted. It wasn’t until 1960 that the schools were ordered to desegregate. Bridges was one of six African American students to pass an exam to see if they were able to attend one of the many all-White schools in the area. Two of the students decided to stay at their school, while the other three were sent to another all-White school. Bridges was sent alone to William Frantz Elementary School.
Bridges was treated harshly throughout her time at school. None of the parents wanted their children to be in a class with a Black child, so they were pulled out. Bridges was the only student in her first-grade class for the entire year.
Yet, that alone isn’t the sum of the harassment and oppression she faced. On her walk to school every day, accompanied by U.S. Marshals, there was a large crowd of people. Some shouted harmful slurs, others threatened to poison her and one, Ruby recalled, held a small coffin with a Black baby doll inside of it. Despite everything, Bridges persisted and attended every day of school.
At the young age of six, Bridges likely didn’t know the history she was building in attending that school. She was a child fighting the battles many adults didn’t have the opportunity to. To some, the world of racial segregation seems so far away from where we are now – but today, Bridges is only 68 years old.
This is why it’s important that we recognize people like Bridges for combatting racism in a world where it was more accepted than it is today. Without people like her, the progress that has been made would not exist. Black History Month exists to pay tribute to exactly that – Black history and those who created it.