Education Week: Ruby Bridges’ First Day At White House

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A little girl walks to her first day of school in the Norman Rockwell painting titled “The Problem We All Live With.” She wears a crisply ironed white dress with ribbons in her hair. She walks past a wall scrawled with racial slurs and smashed tomato, flanked by U.S. Marshals.

The day Ruby Bridges entered a New Orleans elementary school in 1960, every teacher refused to teach a black child and every white family took their children out of school. The six-year-old was taught alone for a full year by a specially hired teacher. On her first day of school, Ruby Bridges became a civil rights icon.

This painting is now on display in the White House, just outside the Oval Office. When Bridges visited to see the historic painting, President Obama told her, “I think it’s fair to say that if it hadn’t been for you guys, I might not be here and we might not be looking at this together.”


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4 thoughts on “Education Week: Ruby Bridges’ First Day At White House

  1. Great post. I didn’t know about Ruby Bridges.
    I grew up in Germany, and when Ruby Bridges walked to school, I wasn’t even born.
    However, when I was about 4 or 5 years old, a friend of my dad came to visit. I don’t remember where he was from, but I know I’d never seen a black person before.
    I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember being fascinated and asking him why he is a different color. (And will it wash off…lol. Hey, I was very little.)
    He smiled and said “It’s so you know it’s me.”
    To me that was fair enough and perfectly sensible.
    He needed to go get something, and I went with him to the shops. People weren’t used to black people and there were stares. I don’t recall anyone calling him names or anything, but I remember becoming upset because he was being stared at. My dad told me his friend (sorry, I don’t recall his name) got back, chuckling because I’d had a go at someone for “Staring at my friend and whispering”. Apparently I threw a right little tantrum lol.
    Personally, I thank my dad for bringing me up with all kinds of people around me, both color and nationality wise, and for making me colorblind when it comes to human skin.
    And it worked so well, I still don’t notice the color of someone’s skin. We had two janitors where I worked, both called Mike. Someone came in and asked to see Mike. I asked which one — expecting them to say the older/younger Mike. The guy said “The black one.” and I stood there having to think which one he meant — because it never occurred to me that one of the Mike’s was black…I just saw them as younger and older Mike.
    Best way to be, IMO.

  2. I have seen that painting as a child, but didn’t know it was a real person. Thank you Ruby and your family for all that you have done!

  3. I’ve seen this original painting, at the Norman Rockwell Museum in MA. It’s very moving, to see it hanging in that gallery. I grew up in the late 60s, early 70s and I agree with Ruby, it never even occurred to me to see someone’s skin color. My parents just saw people as ‘people’. I’m thankful for that.

  4. Ruby Bridge is an American hero. The things her family went through for her to attend school there–from her father losing his job and her grandparents getting turned off the land they worked as sharecroppers–is horrifying.

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