Sunday, 6 March 2011

BOOK REVIEWS ~ Through My Eyes ~ By: Ruby Bridges

After reading "The Story of Ruby Bridges" by Robert Coles, we wanted to know more about the little girl who helped to desegregate the schools of New Orleans in the Fall of 1960.  To learn more, we ordered the book, "Through My Eyes," from Inter-library loans.  This volume is a collection of articles and interviews that tell the story of what happened from Ruby's own perspective.  

"November 14, 1960 ~ My Mother took special care getting me ready for school.  When somebody knocked on my door that morning, my Mother expected to see people from the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People).  Instead, she saw four serious-looking white men, dressed in suits and wearing armbands.  They were U. S. federal marshals.  They had come to drive us to school and stay with us all day.  I learned later they were carrying guns." (Page 15). 

"As we walked through the crowd, I didn't see any faces.  I guess that's because I wasn't very tall and I was surrounded by the marshals.  People yelled and threw things.  I could see the school building, and it looked bigger and nicer than my old school.  When we climbed the high steps to the front door, there were policemen in uniforms at the top.  The policemen at the door and the crowd behind us made me think this was an important place.  It must be college, I thought to myself." (Page 16).

"Once we were inside the building, the marshals walked us up a flight of stairs.  The school office was at the top. My Mother and I went in and were told to sit in the principal's office.  The marshals sat outside.  There were windows in the room where we waited.  That meant everybody passing by could see us.  I remember noticing everyone was white."

"All day long, white parents rushed into the office.  They were upset.  They were arguing and pointing at us.  When they took their children to school that morning, the parents hadn't been sure whether William Frantz would be integrated that day or not.  After my Mother and I arrived, they ran into classrooms and dragged their children out of the school.  From behind the windows in the office, all I saw was confusion.  I told myself that this must be the way it is in a big school."

"That whole first day, my Mother and I just sat and waited.  We didn't talk to anybody.  I remember watching a big, round clock on the wall.  When it was 3:00 and time to go home, I was glad.  I had thought my new school would be hard, but the first day was easy." (Page 18).

"On the second day, my Mother and I drove to school with the marshals.  The crowd outside the building was ready.  Racists spat at us and shouted things like 'Go home, nigger.' and 'No niggers allowed here.'  One woman screamed at me, 'I'm going to poison you.  I'll find a way.'  She made the same threat every morning."

"I tried not to pay attention.  When we finally got into the building, my new teacher was there to meet us.  Her name was Mrs. Henry.  She was young and white.  I had not spent time with a white person before, so I was uneasy at first.  Mrs. Henry led us upstairs to the second floor.  As we went up, we hardly saw anyone else in the building.  The white students were not coming to class.  The halls were so quiet, I could hear the noise the marshals' shoes made on the shiny hardwood floors."

"Mrs. Henry took us into a classroom and said to have a seat.  When I looked around, the room was empty.  There were rows of desks, but no children.  I thought we were too early, but Mrs. Henry said we were right on time.  My Mother sat down at the back of the room.  I took a seat up front, and Mrs. Henry began to teach."

"I spent the whole first day with Mrs. Henry in the classroom.  I wasn't allowed to have lunch in the cafeteria or go outside for recess, so we just stayed in our room.  The marshals sat outside.  If I had to go to the bathroom, the marshals walked me down the hall."

"My Mother sat in the classroom that day, but not the next.  When the marshals came to the house on Wednesday morning, my Mother said, 'Ruby, I can't go to school with you today, but don't be afraid.  The marshals will take care of you.  Be good now, and don't cry.' "

"I started to cry anyway, but before I knew it, I was off to school by myself." (Page 22).

At the conclusion of the book, Ruby shares a little about what has happened to her since she "helped integrate the Frantz school."  She graduated from high school, became a travel agent and later married Malcolm Hall.  The couple had four sons.  Ruby speaks of the death of her brother, Milton. 

"One of the changes I made after my brother's death was to go back to the Frantz school to do volunteer work as a parent liaison.  My brother's young children were students there, and I wanted to help them recover from their father's death.  The school is in a poor neighbourhood in the inner city, and most of the students there now are African American.  As is true of most inner-city schools, there's never enough funding to keep William Frantz up to current standards or even to offer the students the same opportunities they would receive in some of the suburban schools I've been fortunate to visit.  The kids are being segregated all over again.  There aren't enough good resources available to them - and why is that?" (Page 58).

As a result of this experience, she established "The Ruby Bridges Foundation."  It was funded from the proceeds of the sales of the picture book by Robert Coles.  "We started after-school classes - just a few small classes, but it was a start.  We hired teachers for multicultural arts programs.  We started a ballet class, an African dance class, and a class on manners and etiquette.  My hope is to bring programs like these to other inner-city schools." (Page 58).

Thanks to publicity surrounding Cole's book, Ruby was reunited with Mrs. Henry.  In 1996, the pair were featured on an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."  They hadn't seen each other for 35 years!

"As a grown woman, I watched the public television series "Eyes on the Prize," about the civil rights movement, and my Mother had to point out that some of the old film footage was of me.  It's taken me a long time to own the early years of my life."

"I don't know where events will go from here, but I feel carried along by something bigger than I am.  For a long time, I was tempted to feel bitter about the school integration experience, not understanding why I had to go through it and go through it alone.  Now I know it was meant to be that way.  People are touched by the story of the black child who was so alone.  Interest in the story keeps growing, and I'm not the one making it happen.  The picture book and the Disney movie project seemed to fall out of the sky.  I have received two honorary college degrees in recent years.  I have been featured in newspaper articles and made television appearances and I've become a public speaker, a job I never would have dreamed of doing."

"In all 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 - and now I'm closer to being at peace with myself than I ever have been." (Page 60).

Reading Ruby's own recollections is very emotional.  I read it aloud and was a bit teary by the end.  Alisdair thought the book should not be read to younger children, as it would likely be upsetting for them.  The many sepia coloured news photos, scattered throughout the 64-pages of text, also help transport the reader back in time.   

In 1999, this book won an award from Publishers Weekly 'Best Books of the Year' and from the School Library Journal 'Best Books of the Year.'  It also won awards from the American Library Association Notable Books for Children, the Jane Addams Children's Book Award, the Carter G. Woodson Book Award, the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award, and the ABC Children's Booksellers Choices Awards, all in the year 2000.  In addition, this book was nominated for many other prizes between 2001 and 2003.

"Through My Eyes" is a worthwhile read that provides valuable background information to add to what we had initially learned about Ruby Bridges in Robert Cole's picture book, "The Ruby Bridges Story."

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