Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Bethany House
Released: October 2004
In a Class of Only One: Ruby
By Toby Mac and Michael Tait
It was the morning of November 16, 1960. Two big, black limousines
pulled up in front of the William T. Frantz Elementary school
in New Orleans, where a large, angry crowd had gathered. Four
husky U.S. federal marshals got out. Then, while sheltering her
from the crowd with their own bodies, they helped a tiny black
girl in a starched white dress get out of the car. Putting her
carefully on the sidewalk, they turned her around, and with two
marshals in front of her and two behind her, the procession climbed
the steps and entered the school.
It was Ruby Bridges' third day at her new school. On the first
day her mother, Lucille, had gone with Ruby and the federal marshals.
The night before, she had told Ruby, "There might be a lot
of people outside the school, but you don't need to be afraid.
I'll be with you." Ruby saw the barricades and heard the
people shouting but thought it was the Mardi Gras carnival that
takes place in New Orleans every year.
That whole first day, Ruby and her mother sat behind the glass
window of the principal's office and waited. No one spoke to them
— but all day they watched as white parents came in and
dragged their children out of the school. Finally it was three
o'clock and time to go home. The crowd outside was even bigger
and louder than it had been that morning, but the marshals helped
them get through it safely.
That first afternoon Ruby taught a friend a chant she had learned:
"Two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate."
Neither of the little girls knew what the words meant, but they
began to jump rope to it every day after school.
On the second day Ruby, her mother, and the marshals went to
school again, marching together past the noisy, angry crowd. When
they finally got into the building, Ruby's new teacher, Mrs. Henry,
was there to greet them. Ruby noticed that the halls were quiet
and asked if she was early, but Mrs. Henry said, "No, you
are right on time." Ruby later learned that the white children
were not coming to school that day.
Mrs. Henry escorted Ruby and her mother to a classroom on the
second floor. There were lots of desks in the room but no other
children. Ruby's mother took a seat in the back, Ruby took a seat
up front, and Mrs. Henry started to teach Ruby the alphabet. Mrs.
Henry was young and white, and Ruby was uneasy at first —
she had never spent time with a white person before. She spent
the whole day in the classroom with Mrs. Henry. She couldn't go
to the cafeteria or outside for recess. Federal marshals sat outside
the door, guarding and protecting them.
On the third morning Ruby's mother told her she couldn't go to
school with her. She had to work and look after Ruby's brothers
and sister. Ruby remembers her mother assuring her, "The
marshals will take good care of you, Ruby Nell. And remember,
if you get afraid, say your prayers. You can pray to God anytime,
anywhere. He will always hear you."
One of the federal marshals, Charles Burks, remembers those days:
"For a little girl six years old going into a strange school
with four strange deputy marshals, a place she had never been
before, she showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn't
whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier. We were
all very proud of her."
Although the Supreme Court had outlawed school segregation in
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in May 1954, the
schools in the South had never complied with the new order. Finally,
a federal judge decreed that Monday, November 14, 1960, would
be the day black children in New Orleans would go to school with
Six first graders were chosen to integrate the city's public
school system. Three were assigned to McDonogh School No. 19.
The two others assigned to Ruby's school decided to stay in their
old segregated schools, so Ruby would be going to William T. Frantz
alone. Ruby's family knew it would not be easy. They discussed
it for weeks, they prayed about the decision, and in the end,
they decided that despite the risks, they had to take this step
forward, not just for their own children, but for all black children.
An article in the November 18, 1960, issue of U.S. News &
World Report gave the following statistics: "On November
17, three Negro girls and one white child were the only pupils
present at McDonogh School No. 19, which normally has 467 pupils.
The other ‘integrated' Negro [Ruby] had the company of only
three white children in William T. Franz School, which normally
has 576 pupils." A few white families braved the protests
and kept their children in school. Like Ruby, they had to walk
through a mob of white people screaming obscenities, yelling threats,
and waving their fists at them. But they weren't in Ruby's class,
so she didn't see them.
The first few days of integration were tense. Militant segregationists
did not just protest at the schools. They took to the streets
in protest, and riots erupted all over the city. Whites assaulted
blacks in broad daylight and the blacks fought back, even though
the NAACP urged them not to. Extra police were called in. Finally,
by the end of the week, the worst of the street riots were over.
Ruby's father, Abon, was fired from his service station job because
customers were threatening to boycott the business if he remained
there. But financial help was on the way. People from around the
country who'd heard about Ruby on the news sent letters, gifts,
and money. A neighbor gave Abon a job painting houses. Others
baby-sat for the family and watched their house to keep away troublemakers.
Ruby's family couldn't have made it without the help of their
friends and neighbors.
Mrs. Henry tried to explain integration to Ruby and why some
people were against it. "It's not easy for people to change
once they have gotten used to living a certain way. Some of them
don't know any better and they're afraid. But not everyone is
Ruby now recalls: "Even though I was only six, I knew what
she meant. The people I passed every morning as I walked up the
school's steps were full of hate. They were white, but so was
my teacher, who couldn't have been more different from them. She
was one of the most loving people I had ever known. The greatest
lesson I learned that year in Mrs. Henry's class was the lesson
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to teach us all: Never judge
people by the color of their skin. God makes each of us unique
in ways that go much deeper."
About this time, Dr. Robert Coles, a trained child psychiatrist
who specialized in helping children under stress, offered to help
Ruby and her family during the most stressful time in their lives.
He was amazed to find that Ruby and her family were upheld and
sustained by a very real and profound peace. Dr. Coles marveled
at Ruby's ability to withstand this kind of treatment and wondered
where she got her emotional strength. Every week he would come
to Ruby's home to visit and draw with her, and then he would ask
her about her drawings.
One day, Mrs. Henry, who always watched Ruby walk into the school,
told Dr. Coles that Ruby had stopped and talked to the people
in the street. When Dr. Coles asked Ruby about this, she said,
"Oh, yes. I told her I wasn't talking to them. I was just
saying a prayer for them."
Usually Ruby prayed in the car on the way to school, but that
day she had forgotten until she was in the middle of the crowd.
Her mother had taught her that every time she felt afraid she
should pray. With childlike obedience, when Ruby felt afraid that
morning, she stopped right where she was and said a prayer.
Dr. Coles was amazed that Ruby would pray for people who were
so hateful to her. He asked her, "Ruby, you pray for the
"Why do you do that?"
"Because they need praying for," Ruby replied.
"Ruby, why do you think they need you to pray for them?"
"Because I should."
Ruby's mother heard this exchange and explained, "We tell
Ruby that it's important that she pray for the people."
Dr. Coles asked Ruby what she prayed.
Ruby answered, "I pray for me, that I would be strong and
not afraid. I pray for my enemies, that God would forgive them.
"Jesus prayed that on the cross," she told Coles, as
if that settled the matter. "Forgive them, because they don't
know what they're doing."
For the rest of the year, Mrs. Henry stubbornly taught her class
of one. Mrs. Henry said, "I grew to love Ruby and to be awed
by her. It was an ugly world outside. . . . Neither of us ever
missed a single day of school that year. It was important to keep
Sometime in the spring, Mrs. Henry was stunned to find out four
other first graders had been coming to the school for a while.
She immediately told the principal she wanted Ruby and the other
first graders to be together, as it was cruel to keep Ruby by
herself for so long. She said, "By law, you have to integrate
this school. Integration means putting black and white children
in the same classroom. As I see it, you are breaking the law by
keeping them separate." The principal would not force the
other first grade teacher to include Ruby in her class. Instead,
the white children came into Mrs. Henry's classroom for part of
each day. Mrs. Henry said, "It was progress." It was
from these children that Ruby finally learned about racism and
I had picked up bits and pieces over the months from being around
adults and hearing them talk, but nothing was clear to me. The
light dawned one day when a little white boy refused to play with
‘I can't play with you,' the boy said. ‘My mama said
not to because you're a n——r.'
At that moment, it all made sense to me. I finally realized that
everything had happened because I was black. I remember feeling
a little stunned. It was all about the color of my skin.
I wasn't angry at the boy, because I understood. His mother had
told him not to play with me, and he was obeying her. I would
have done the same thing. If my mama said not to do something,
I didn't do it.
By late spring the crowd outside dwindled to just a few protestors.
Instead of the federal marshals, a taxi driver was sent to pick
Ruby up every morning. Before she knew it, it was June.
When Ruby went back to school in September, everything was different:
There were no marshals, no protestors. There were other kids—even
some other black students—in her second-grade class. It
was odd, but it was almost as if that first year of school integration
had never happened. No one talked about it. Everyone seemed to
have put that difficult time behind them.
Today Ruby Bridges lives in New Orleans with her husband, Malcolm
Hall, and four sons. In the early 1990s, Ruby volunteered to work
at the same William Franz Elementary School she had "integrated"
as a child. It had since become an inner-city school with mostly
African-American students—so the children were segregated
once again. Eventually, Ruby established the Ruby Bridges Foundation
to help schools succeed.
Ruby often speaks to audiences across the U.S., telling them
that every child is a unique human being fashioned by God, and
that schools can be a place to bring kids together from all races
If kids of different races are to grow up to live and work together
in harmony, then they are going to have to begin at the beginning—in
school together. People are touched by the story of the black
child who was so alone. . . . In all of this, I feel my part is
just to trust in the Lord and step out of the way. For many years,
I wasn't ready to be who I am today, but I've always tried not
to lose my faith. Now I feel I'm being led by just that—faith...
I don't know where events will go from here, but I feel carried
along by something bigger than I am.
Ruby had been called by her country to perform an act of profound
bravery, to become the [only] black child in an all-white school.
By her simple act of courage, Ruby moved the hearts and opened
the minds of millions of people. — A CIVIL RIGHTS WORKER
There is no easy way to create a world where men and women can
live together, where each has his own job and house and where
all children receive as much education as their minds can absorb.
But if such a world is created in our lifetime, it will be done
in the United States by Negroes and white people of good will.
It will be accomplished by persons who have the courage to put
an end to suffering by willingly suffering themselves rather than
inflict suffering upon others. It will be done by rejecting the
racism, materialism, and violence that has characterized Western
civilization and especially by working toward a world of brotherhood,
cooperation, and peace. — DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children
to spread it. —RUBY BRIDGES
The Road to Desegregation
The Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954
did not abolish segregation in all public areas, such as restaurants
and rest rooms, nor did it require desegregation of public schools
by a specific time. It did, however, declare the segregation that
existed in twenty-one states unconstitutional. While the Brown
v. Board case was a giant step toward complete desegregation of
public schools, even partial desegregation was still very far
By 1957 Little Rock, Arkansas, had already desegregated its public
buses, the zoo, the library, and the park systems. Working toward
the desegregation of the entire city, the Little Rock school board
had made plans to integrate the high school that year, followed
by the junior high the next year, and the elementary schools in
the following year. It seemed the process would go smoothly, since
seven of Arkansas' eight state universities had desegregated,
a law school had been integrated since 1949, and blacks had been
appointed to state boards and elected to local offices. But a
smooth transition of integration for the state's school system
was not to be.
On September 3, when nine black students arrived at Little Rock
Central High School, a group of National Guard members turned
them away, a direct order from Arkansas governor Orval Faubus
in an effort to protect citizens and property from the violence
of protestors. The Guard was withdrawn a few weeks later, and
on September 23, the nine black students were quietly ushered
in a side door of the school building while a mob of a thousand
people waited outside the front of the school. When the mob learned
that the students had entered the school, shouts of challenges
and threats forced the fearful police to remove the students from
the school. Two days later the nine black students reentered the
school under the protection of one thousand members of the United
The year that followed was intense for Little Rock Central High
School. Most of the students, faculty, and administration not
only accepted desegregation as the law but also accepted the black
students among the white. Although the black students suffered
physical and verbal assaults, commencement ceremonies in May successfully
graduated Ernest Green, the school's first black graduate.
Under God by Toby
Mac and Michael
Tait (with WallBuilders)
Copyright © 2004; ISBN 0764200098
Published by Bethany
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
For more information on this book, visit the Under
God Web site.
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