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Ruby Bridges Shares the Key to Overcoming Racism

In 1960, Ruby Bridges became one of the first African American children to integrate into an all-white school in New Orleans. Today, she shares how overcoming racism takes the heart of a child. Read Transcript

When we turned the corner, I saw all of these people.

NARRATOR: November 14, 1960, it was six-year-old

Ruby Bridges' first day of school

at William Frantz Elementary in New Orleans.

I remember them chanting, two, four, six, eight,

we don't want to integrate.

NARRATOR: It had been five years since the US Supreme

Court mandated the desegregation of schools.

Now Washington was putting pressure on Louisiana

and other states that had yet to comply.

In a veiled attempt to appear compliant,

city officials in New Orleans gave 150 black kindergartners

an entrance exam, one they had no chance of passing.

But 6 of the 150 passed that test.

Ruby was one of them.

Everybody was coming over and congratulating my parents.

She's so smart.

She passed.

We're so proud of her.

So I actually thought that I was so smart

that I passed this test that would allow me to go

from first grade to college.

NARRATOR: Three girls, including Ruby,

were selected to attend William Frantz Elementary.

But by the first day, the other two girls

had dropped out, making Ruby the only

black student in the school.

My parents only said, Ruby, you're

going to go to a new school today, and you better behave.

There was a knock at the door, and my parents

opened the door, and four very tall white men

were standing at the door.

And I remember looking at them and thinking, well,

who are they?

NARRATOR: Those four men the United States marshals,

sent under order of President Eisenhower.

Their job was to escort Ruby to and from school.

One of the men was Charles Burks.

Well, we had a lot of demonstrations

against what we were doing.

The main thing was be sure nothing happened to her.

So we'd tell her, just stay close to us.

We'll be all right.

There were barricades everywhere.

There were cameras everywhere.

I thought I'd stumbled into a parade.

I actually thought it was Mardi Gras.

It didn't seem to bother her any.

She was just doing what she had been told to do.

NARRATOR: Ruby's mother went as well.

Once inside, they were taken to the principal's office,

where they stayed all day.

There they watched white parents scramble in and out

of classrooms, taking their children out of school.

500 kids walked out of school that day.

And I didn't know what was going on because nobody

explained anything to me.

Finally, the bell rang, and someone came into the office

and they said, school is dismissed.

You can leave.

And I remember sitting there and thinking, wow, college is easy.

NARRATOR: By the next day, the crowds had doubled.

And they kept pointing at me and shouting.

Two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate.

They kept saying, we're going to poison her.

We're going to hang her.

I was in favor of what we were doing.

I knew what we were doing was right.

And we were going to make sure it happened.

NARRATOR: This time, Ruby was taken to a classroom.

RUBY BRIDGES: I remember looking into that classroom,

and all I saw was empty desks.

I didn't see one child.

NARRATOR: But there was one person there,

her teacher, Barbara Henry.

Coming from Boston, she was the only one willing to teach Ruby.

I remember looking at her and thinking, she's white.

I had never seen a white teacher before.

She looked exactly like the people outside.

She wasn't.

I always say that she showed me her heart.

NARRATOR: The following week, students started to return.

But the principal confined Ruby to her classroom

and didn't allow her to play outside or eat

in the cafeteria.

I remember going to the back of the classroom

to sharpen my pencil, and you could look onto the playground.

There was these huge oak trees, swings, and slides,

and basketball goals.

And I kept thinking as I sharpened my pencil, where

are the kids?

NARRATOR: By the end of the school year,

the protests had disbanded, and Ruby was finally allowed

to meet the other children.

I finally found them.

And I was so excited.

So I went in to play with them.

This little boy looked at me and he said, I can't play with you.

My mom said not to play with you because you're a nigger.

So that's what this is about.

It's not Mardi Gras, and this isn't college.

It's about me.

It's about me and the way I look and the color of my skin.

And in my mind, that was OK.

Yes, he hurt my feelings.

But I wasn't angry with him because I

felt like he was explaining to me why

he couldn't play with me.

If my parents said, Ruby, don't play with him.

He's Asian, Hispanic, Indian, Muslim, white, mixed race,

Jewish, gay, I would not have played with him.

I didn't feel like there was anything for me to forgive.

The fact that, in my mind, he was explaining to me

and that I would have done the same thing,

it wasn't like I was angry with him.

So there was nothing there to forgive.

The fact that when I passed the crowd

I thought it was Mardi Gras, there

was nothing there for me to forgive.

NARRATOR: Ruby returned the following year.

She had a new teacher and a roomful of classmates.

She went on to attend an integrated high school

and eventually graduated from Kansas City Business School

with a degree in Travel and Tourism.

And when she married and began raising a family,

she taught her children to rely on God.

She always falls on her faith, and she makes sure

that you do so as well.

So it doesn't matter what you go through.

It doesn't matter who hates you and dislikes you.

As long as you have that faith and that relationship with God,

you're fine.

Ruby returned to William Frantz Elementary in 1993

when she enrolled her four nieces.

She witnessed the same racism she had seen as a little girl.

So to build bridges between the races,

she volunteered as a parent liaison

and established an after-school multicultural art club.

Soon after, she launched the Ruby Bridges Foundation

and began sharing her story with students all over the US.

I see hope that most of us don't see.

I'm in schools every day.

I am so humbled by the way my story moves kids.

It's so simple how Mrs. Henry didn't judge me,

how all I wanted was a friend.

Kids get that.

They understand that.

Our kids know nothing about racism.

It's us as adults.

We take racism, and we pass it on to our kids.

And that's why it's still around.

Each and every one of us come into the world

with a clean heart.

I believe that if we are going to get

past our racial differences, even today,

it's going to come from our kids.

NARRATOR: It's been over 55 years

since Ruby walked up those steps and took her place in history.

Today, her legacy continues to make a difference.

I was happy to see what she did because I

knew it could be done.

I've always told Ruby that I'm glad I was able to have

something to do with it.

To have equality, it takes someone with courage

to make that change so that we can come together.

And you have to have a great faithful foundation

to stand up for something that you truly believe.

My super hero, she does that every day.

Out of the Commandment, if you could only keep one,

the one you should keep is love thy neighbor.

That is the key.

And I have to care about you as a person and a human being.

I really believe the longer I live that it really

has everything to do with love.

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