A Brief Summary of Ruby’s Life
When the United States federal government in 1960 ordered the desegregation of New Orleans public schools, a young African American student named Ruby Bridges and her family were thrust into the national spotlight. Ruby was born in Tylertown, Mississippi in 1954. In 1957, economic conditions forced her family to move to New Orleans where her father worked as a custodian and her mother cleaned floors at a bank. The entire family was actively involved in the church and their neighborhood community. When integration was ordered, the NAACP backed Ruby’s assignment to a first grade class at William Frantz Elementary School. The president was forced to call up Federal Marshals to maintain order and insure safety. Ruby was soon the only student attending Frantz, as hostile white parents withdrew their children and protested at the school each day. Despite the continuous harassment that Ruby and her parents faced, she continued to attend Frantz Elementary from which she graduated and moved on to high school. Though Ruby never went to college, she is now quite successful. Now Ruby Bridges Hall, she has raised four children, lectures around the country, wrote a book of her own, Through My Eyes, and heads the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which consults with schools to develop diversity programs and increase parental involvement.
Students will first meet Ruby by viewing the famous 1964 painting, “The Problem We All Live With,” by Norman Rockwell. This picture is shown on the two Internet sites I have included in my bibliography and in Ruby’s book, Through My Eyes. Most likely a copy is also available in any collection of Rockwell’s works. The picture shows Ruby, a tiny but proud little girl, being escorted by Federal Marshals whose job it was to see that Ruby arrived safely at school. They will be asked to comment on the content and composition of the painting and then assigned to write a brief narrative on what they think is happening. The results will be shared and discussed. I will then present a brief sketch of Ruby’s life. This summary could be drawn from the facts listed above or another biographical source.
We will move on to reading and discussing The Story of Ruby Bridges where students will follow Ruby’s struggle to survive in a hostile, often violent, environment. They will learn of the courage and determination she, as well as her family, exhibited in the face of obstacles that would have sent many others away. Though I will read the book orally, I will rotate extra copies around the classroom so that some students can follow in the book. They will be encouraged to reread the book on their own and to take a copy home to share and/or read to their family. The reading level is one, which most fourth and even third graders can handle. Occasionally, I will call on a student to read. Frequently, I will stop to clarify, question, and/or elicit pupils’ emotional responses to story events. These questions will focus on helping students empathize with Ruby and her family, to better understand how difficult it must have been to withstand such pressures. We will also examine Ruby’s sources of strength: her family, her religion, her community, and some committed white people.
The film, “The Ruby Bridges Story,” a Disney made for television movie, will be shown after the book has been read. Both of these works clearly show the hatred and potential violence present in the mobs of angry people who confronted Ruby each day she entered school, but the film is definitely more potent. At the same time, each presents a positive image of Ruby’s white teacher who was born in Boston. Despite negative pressure from her colleagues, she helps Ruby to cope with the situation. In spite of the imposing barriers that Ruby faced, she survived.
The support of Ruby’s family is clear in the book as well as in the film. The film, however, adds another dimension by showing the conflicting feelings faced by Ruby’s father who does not want his daughter used as a pawn. The film also examines the attitude of the black community towards the move to integrate and looks at the fact that related pressure caused her father to lose his job.
As a culmination, students will be asked to compose a letter to Ruby asking questions and stating their feelings regarding events in her story. Letters will be collected and distributed among the students who will assume the character of Ruby and answer the questions, as he or she believes Ruby would have answered them.
As a final piece of the Ruby Bridges segment of my unit, I will read the transcript of a 1997 interview of the now successful Ruby Bridges Hall. Students will hear her speak of the past, the present, and what she sees in the future.