Black woman integrating southern school writes a children’s book

Ruby Bridges was six years old in first grade when she passed crowds of cynical whites to become one of the first black students at segregated schools in New Orleans in more than six decades. Now, with the topic of race teaching in America more complicated than ever, she has written a picture book about her experience for her youngest readers.

Bridges, along with three other black students at a different school, were the first to incorporate what were all-white schools in New Orleans in 1960.

“I’m Ruby Bridges,” featuring drawings by Nicholas Smith, will go on sale Tuesday. It is published by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. It is intended for readers under the age of 4 years.

Bridges said in an interview with The Associated Press that the book, complete with a glossary that includes the words “Supreme Court” and “law,” is an encouraging story about opportunity and empowering children to make a difference.


“It’s a true reflection of what happened in my view,” she said.

But books written by or about bridges been challenged by conservatives in many school districts amid complaints of race-related teaching. Bridges said she hopes the new book will end up in elementary school libraries.

“I have been very, very fortunate because of the way I tell my story that my children come in all shapes and colours, and my books are best sellers, and are probably banned in schools,” she said. “But I think parents really want to transcend racial differences. They will look for those books.”

Bridges was born in 1954, the same year the US Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Southern school districts, including New Orleans, have continued to resist integration for years.


But on November 14, 1960, Bridges—carrying a plaid bookbag and wearing a white jacket—was escorted by four Federal guards before a cynical white crowd at the segregated William Frantz Elementary School. The scene was made famous in Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Trouble We All Live,” which hung in the White House near the Oval Office under former President Barack Obama.

The book’s theme plays with the author’s name: “Ruby” is a gemstone, and “Bridges” are meant to bring people together. Told with a touch of humor from a first-grader’s point of view, the book depicts the wonders of Bridges’ experience – rather than just the horror of that boisterous first day at school.

“It really does look to me like Mardi Gras, but they don’t toss any beads. What is Mardi Gras without beads?” Bridges writes.

The only show that day was outside school. White parents immediately began withdrawing their children, so Bridges spent the entire year alone with white teacher Barbara Henry, who is still alive and “best friend,” Bridges said. She said Henry’s acceptance and kindness during a difficult time taught her an important lesson.


“It made me a totally unbiased person. And I feel like that little girl is still inside of me, and that’s my message to make sure kids understand that you can’t look at someone and judge them,” Bridges said.

Elsewhere in New Orleans on the same day Bridges went to school, Jill Etienne, Leona Tate, and Tessie Prevost attended all-white 19th McDonough Elementary School. Last year, New Orleans held an award Weekend of events Let’s remember Bridges and other women.

Bridges, a native of Mississippi, still lives in the New Orleans metro and has authored or co-authored five books. Posted two years “This is your time,” Which is intended for older children than her new book.



Reeves is a member of the Associated Press’s Race and Ethnicity Team.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

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