Wednesday, 16 February 2011

BOOK REVIEW ~ The Story of Ruby Bridges

A touching read...
Her name was Ruby Bridges.  She was just six-years old.  It was 1960 in New Orleans, Louisiana and desegregation of the schools was a controversial political issue.  Little Ruby was one of four black girls ordered to attend white elementary schools.  Three of the girls attended one school while Ruby was singled out to go to William Frantz Elementary School.

When the parents of the white students learned of Ruby's enrollment at their school, they got angry and decided to keep their children home. 

"On Ruby's first day, a large crowd of angry white people gathered outside Frantz Elementary School.  The people carried signs that said they didn't want black children in a white school.  People called Ruby names; some wanted to hurt her.  The city and state police did not help Ruby.  The President of the United States ordered federal marshals to walk with Ruby into the school building.  The marshals carried guns."

Despite these circumstances, we are told Ruby came to school ready and eager to learn.  Her teacher, Mrs. Henry observed, "She was polite and she worked well at her desk.  She enjoyed her time there.  She didn't seem nervous or anxious or irritable or scared.  She seemed as normal and relaxed as any child I've ever taught."

Ruby was accompanied by federal marshals
Later, Mrs. Henry would learn of the prayer that Ruby would pray, twice a day, on the way to and from school.  The little girl would say:

"Please, God, try to forgive those people.
Because even if they say those bad things,
They don't know what they are doing.
So you could forgive them,
Just like You did those folks a long time ago
When they said terrible things about You.
For most of the year, Ruby was the only pupil in her classroom and in the whole of William Frantz Elementary School. In the "Afterward" of Coles book, we are told that eventually "two white boys joined Ruby ... their parents were tired of seeing the boys get into mischief around the house when they could have been in school and learning.  The mob became very angry when the first white boys went back to school.  But those boys were soon joined by other children."

" 'We've been sitting back and letting our children get cheated out of an education because some people have tried to take the law into their own hands,' one parent said.  'It's time for us to fight for the side of the law and for our children's right to go to school and get their education.' "

"They all did get their education, Ruby and a growing number of boys and girls who went to school with her.  By the time Ruby was in the second grade, the mobs had given up their struggle to scare Ruby and defeat the federal judge's order that New Orleans schools be desegregated so that children of all races might be in the same classroom.  Year after year Ruby went to the Frantz School.  She graduated from it, then went on to graduate from high school."

Of course Ruby is now grown.  She is married with four sons of her own and "has created the Ruby Bridges Educational Foundation for the purpose of increasing parental involvement in schools."

Ruby's Mother recalls that turbulent time:

"Our Ruby taught us all a lot.
She became someone who helped change our country. 
She was part of history,
 just like generals and presidents are part of history. 
They're leaders, and so was Ruby.
She led us away from hate, and she led us nearer to
knowing each other,
the white folks and the black folks."

Reading about Ruby and her difficult educational journey brought me to tears.  Perhaps it is because Isobel is almost the same age as young Ruby ~ or perhaps it was the deep faith revealed in her simple prayer.  Regardless of the reason, Cole's book is truly "a moving portrayal that captures a young girl's amazing courage and faith." Put it on your "must read" list for your children and grandchildren!

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