President Barack Obama, Ruby Bridges, and representatives of the Norman Rockwell Museum view Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With,” hanging in a West Wing hallway near the Oval Office, July 15, 2011. Bridges is the girl portrayed in the painting. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
AOL (2010): When Ruby Bridges arrived for her first day at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans 50 years ago, she thought it was Mardi Gras. People lined the streets, shouting and throwing things – just like a Carnival parade. But these people weren’t celebrating.
At 6 years old, Bridges had been unwittingly thrust onto the grand stage of American history. Her parents had volunteered her to be the first black child to attend an all-white school in the South. Local law enforcement refused to protect her from the unruly mobs that surrounded her school, so every day she was escorted by four federal marshals – the scene immortalized by Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Problem We All Live With.”
That first day, all the parents had rushed into the building and taken their kids out — effectively boycotting the school. The school didn’t quite know what to do; Ruby was told to just sit in the principal’s office until it was time to go home.
“I remember thinking, ‘This school is easy,’” Bridges told AOL News.
Since then, Bridges grew up, raised four sons and worked as a travel agent before returning to a career as an educational activist that she had started at such a young age. But while her educational career eventually subsided into a normal New Orleans childhood – albeit one charged by forced integration – those exceptional first days in school had shaped her for life.
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