When Ruby Bridges was six years old and in the first grade, just like many other children, she went to a new school. Ruby's school was called William Frantz Elementary School. It was in the City of New Orleans in the state of Louisiana.
And, just like other children, Ruby was nervous about the first day of school. She knew everything was going to be different: a new building, new teachers, new rules, new things to learn, new children to play with, and (she hoped) new friends.
But, unlike other children, Ruby didn't go to school by walking or riding in her parents' car or in a school bus. Ruby went to school in a police car, followed by people from her neighborhood to help keep her safe. Ruby walked to the front door of her school surrounded by four tall men who had guns and wore armbands with the words "U.S. Marshal" on their sleeves.
Because Ruby wasn't just like the other children at William Frantz Elementary School. She was the only African American child in the entire school, and some people didn't think she should be there.
You see, Ruby started first grade in 1960, about sixty years ago. Back then, in some parts of the United States, children with different skin colors went to different schools. There were schools for children with dark skin, and there with schools for children with light skin. That was called segregation.
Some people liked segregation, but many people knew it wasn't fair. The schools for white children always had more books, better buildings, and lots more of everything than the schools for black children. Because of that, our government made a law that said all children—no matter what their skin color—can go to the same schools. That is called integration.
The parents at William Frantz Elementary School who liked segregation did not like integration. Because Ruby had dark skin, they thought she didn't belong at the school. They kept their children home from school, away from her. Ruby was the only student in her class. She didn't have anyone to play with or to talk to, except for her teacher, all day long.
And every day, those people who didn't like integration would go to Ruby's school, and they would yell horrible, mean things at her. Some called her names. One woman threatened to poison her. Sometimes they would even throw rocks or eggs or tomatoes, trying to keep her away from the school.
Yet every day, Ruby Bridges would go to that school. She would get dressed and eat breakfast and get ready for school, and then her mother would say, "I'm proud of you," and her father would say, "You're my brave little girl," and they would all say, "I love you" to each other.
Every day, her neighbors would surround the police car that Ruby was riding in, and the four U.S. Marshals would surround her as she walked through that crowd of angry people, to help keep her safe.
And every day, Ruby would say a prayer—but not for herself. Ruby prayed for the angry people who yelled at her, asking God to forgive them and to change their minds. When Ruby Bridges was surrounded by hate, she surrounded everyone with love.
After a while, it worked.
The next year, when Ruby Bridges was seven years old and starting the second grade, the angry crowd of people wasn't ther. She didn't have to ride in a police car. There were no U.S. Marshals surrounding her. White people did not keep their children home from William Frantz Elementary School, even though Ruby was there.
When Ruby went to her classroom on that first day of second grade, there were twenty other children. Some of them had dark skin, like her. Some of them would be her friends. Integration had happened, and William Frantz Elementary School was a school for all children.
Fifty years ago, Ruby Bridges helped to integrate a school, and integration helped make our country more fair for everyone. Today, Ruby Bridges is all grown-up, and she travels to schools all over the country, telling her story and teaching people to respect and appreciate each other.
Each of us can be like Ruby. We can all surround each other with love.