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Back to School with Ruby Bridges

Posted by Casey Kelley on

Looking Back on The Six-Year-Old That Led Desegregation in the South

While sitting in a desk may not be as appealing to our youngsters as playing on sweet summertime days, it is important to remember that access to education was not always possible for all students. As we know, it was not until 1954 that the Supreme Court declared the segregation of children in schools based on their skin color was unconstitutional. It was following this declaration that black students began working toward receiving equal education opportunities as other students. This is the basis of 1954 at Blended Designs, as we work to provide gear to students that empowers them and encourages them to do their best.

Although educational segregation was declared unconstitutional in 1954, it took several years for this declaration to take hold in the American south. This movement was spearheaded by six-year-old Ruby Bridges, the first black child to attend a formerly all-white school in 1960, six years following the declaration.

The First Black Child in a Desegregated School

This was not an easy feat for Bridges to achieve. Bridges and her family moved to New Orleans when she was just 4-years-old from their hometown of Tylertown, Mississippi, in hopes of finding better opportunities in the larger city. It was here that Bridges was given a test during her kindergarden year, to determine whether or not she could attend a white school. The test was designed to be particularly difficult to pass, as to slow the process of desegregation in the south. In 1960, the NAACP informed Bridges that she was one out of just six students that passed the test.

Bridges would be the first black student to attend an all white school in the American south, William Frantz School. This breakthrough paved the way for continued civil rights actions in the future, but not without its challenges to Bridges and her family.

Many white parents in the south were still deeply opposed to the desegregation of schools, making it a dangerous situation for Bridges to attend William Frantz. On her first day of school on November 14, 1960, Bridges was escorted through a crowd of angry protestors by her mother and several U.S. marshals. Two marshals walked ahead of her and two followed behind as she entered the school, as protestors yelled and threw objects. Almost all of the school’s parents kept their children home from school this day in protest. Bridges was escorted into the principal’s office where she spent the day, unable to study with the chaos outside.

The next day, there was a similar situation outside of the school. However, on this day, one teacher, Mrs. Barbara Henry, volunteered to teach Bridges. At this point, schools were integrated in the south, but classrooms did not have to be. Because of this, Bridges was the only student in her class with Mrs. Henry. Our 6-year-old heroine had received threats from protestors, to the point that the school required her to bring her own lunches for fear of her school lunch being poisoned. Bridges continued to be escorted through the school by federal marshals for her safety, even when visiting the restroom.

Effects on the Bridges Family

Bridges’ family was met with severe adversity following the movement as well, as her father, Abon Bridges, lost his job at the filling station. Her grandparents were sent off of the land that they had sharecropped for over 25 years, and Bridges’ family was banned from the grocery store that they had formerly shopped.

Despite all of these trials and tribulations, Bridges and her family remained strong, realizing the importance and gravity of the opportunity to receive a quality education a matter of blocks away from their home. As time passed and Bridges began her second year of school at William Frantz, parents began to gradually start sending their children back to the school. At this point, Bridges was thrust into the school’s population in full swing, without escorts and without Mrs. Henry by her side. Mrs. Henry’s contract was not renewed after her first year of educating Bridges.

A Bright Future for Bridges

Young Ruby Bridges used her determination, drive and thirst for knowledge to move on and graduate from the integrated Francis T. Nicholls High School in New Orleans some years later. She went on to study travel and tourism at Kansas City Business School, and began working for American Express as a travel agent. Bridges went on to form the Ruby Bridges Foundation in 1999, and began to volunteer as a parent-community liaison in the very school that she had made history in decades before. Since this point, Bridges’ hardwork and groundbreaking civil rights leadership has been recognized by being made an honorary deputy marshal in 2000 in Washington, D.C., and by receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001 from former President Bill Clinton.  

The everlasting impact that Bridges made on the educational system by setting foot in William Frantz in 1960 can still be felt in our schools today. Groundbreaking leaders like Bridges are what make it possible for black students to become empowered and educated in our society. With back-to-school in the forefront of all parent’s and student’s minds, it is a perfect time to reflect and thank those who paved the way for advances in civil rights that would not be made possible without their hard work and bravery.

You can represent this pride through the use of our bags, totes and organizational tools with fun characters representing students of every skin tone. Explore our selection of backpacks for back to school here, including our limited edition 1954 bags. 

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