How I Felt to Be First

On November 14, 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges walked past an angry crowd to become the first child to integrate a public elementary school in the American South.

On November 14, 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges walked past an angry crowd to become the first child to integrate a public elementary school in the American South. Now a mother, grandmother, and activist, the lifelong New Orleans resident heads the Ruby Bridges Foundation and travels all over the United States to tell her story.

Did you ever talk to your mother about how she felt, sending you to school that first day?

We never really spoke about it. My parents definitely displayed courage. I’m the mother of four. I’m very protective, but I just don’t think that I possess that kind of courage. I know it was a different time, but as African Americans, my parents knew that if they wanted to see change in their lifetime, they had to step up to the plate to make that happen. And as we know, lots of people did that. Lots of people who made those bold sacrifices lost their lives. I remember driving up to the school, seeing all these people screaming. But in New Orleans that’s what we do at Mardi Gras. I thought we’d stumbled upon a parade. And so I really wasn’t afraid at all.

Your foundation's mission is to "empower children to advance social justice and racial harmony." How do you help children do this?

I just draw from my own experience. I guess that six-yearold is still inside of me. Once my school was integrated and I was there with white kids and a few black kids, it really didn’t matter to us what we looked like. Now I reach out to different communities and bring their kids together.

A statue of you was recently dedicated at your former school. How does that make you feel?

My school was hit by Hurricane Katrina, and they were going to tear it down. I worked hard to get it on the National Register of Historic Places. I’m really proud of that, and of the statue. I want to inspire kids. There are all kinds of monuments to adults—usually dead and usually white. But we don’t often lift up the extraordinary work of children.

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