In November 1960, all of America watched as a tiny six-year-old black girl, surrounded by federal marshals, walked through a mob of screaming segregationists and into her school. An icon of the civil rights movement, Ruby Bridges chronicles each dramatic step of this pivotal event in history through her own words.
With Robert Coles's 1995 picture book, The Story of Ruby Bridges, and a Disney television movie, readers may feel they already know all about Bridges, who in 1960 was the first black child to attend a New Orleans public elementary school. But the account she gives here is freshly riveting. With heartbreaking understatement, she gives voice to her six-year-old self. Escorted on her first day by U.S. marshals, young Ruby was met by throngs of virulent protesters ("I thought maybe it was Mardi Gras... Mardi Gras was always noisy," she remembers). Her prose stays unnervingly true to the perspective of a child: "The policeman at the door and the crowd behind us made me think this was an important place. It must be college, I thought to myself." Inside, conditions were just as strange, if not as threatening. Ruby was kept in her own classroom, receiving one-on-one instruction from teacher Barbara Henry, a recent transplant from Boston. Sidebars containing statements from Henry and Bridges's mother, or excerpts from newspaper accounts and John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, provide information and perspectives unavailable to Bridges as a child. As the year went on, Henry accidentally discovered the presence of other first graders, and she had to force the principal to send them into her classroom for part of the day (the principal refused to make the other white teachers educate a black child). Ironically, it was only when one of these children refused to play with Ruby ("My mama said not to because you're a nigger") that Ruby realized that "everything had happened because I was black.... It was all about the color of my skin." Sepia-toned period photographs join the sidebars in rounding out Bridges's account. But Bridges's words, recalling a child's innocence and trust, are more vivid than even the best of the photos. Like poetry or prayer, they melt the heart. Ages 8-12.