Ruby Bridges, an American activist known for being the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South, shared her very personal story with 350 guests attending the 15th Annual Metro Advancement Council Luncheon at the Union League Club of Chicago on May 14.
You would think that entering a new school in an all-white neighborhood at six years of age would have been a traumatic experience. Not so. Her mom never prejudiced her with any comments other than to behave in school. She, her family and neighbors were genuinely excited. Ruby was only one of six students who had been selected for admission from a test group of 100 children. Two of the three children registered to attend William Franz in New Orleans backed out. So on November 14, 1960, she alone calmly walked past a jeering crowd surrounded by four U.S. Marshalls and into the principal’s office. Remarkably, she was never afraid, surely protected by childhood innocence even in the face of such extreme adversity.
Today, Bridges spends much of her time visiting school children across the country, speaking with students about her story and the many messages we all can learn from her experiences.
Her message to the largely adult audience at the luncheon was clear and compelling. “Every child comes into this world with a clean heart,” she said. “It’s the adults who create tensions and keep racism alive. They pass it on to their kids. Adults are responsible for the world we live in today.”
Her message to children is kinder and gentler. She encourages them to get to know the kids sitting next to them in class. “It doesn’t matter what the person looks like,” she said. “Good and evil comes in all kinds of colors. The good need to come together to prevail. See the good in others, become friends, and help them.”
Bridges concluded her remarks by complimenting the Metro Achievement Center for helping girls grow up and become women of strong character. “Girls didn’t have the benefit of that when I was young,” she said. “What you do is extremely important.”