1960s Unicorn Trailblazer: Six-Year-Old Ruby Bridges

It’s Black History month! If there’s one thing I truly love and admire, it’s the social justice warriors throughout history who risked so much and fought with everything they had to help evoke change and push humanity forward. These courageous individuals put themselves out there to disrupt the status quo, spread their light and take a vocal stand for the values close to their heart.

Black History month is a time where I think about those who determinedly stood up against systemic racism. Where would we be today without these brave, defiant spirits who refused to tolerate the “intolerable” and demand better? Yes, I’m talking about discrimination and oppression, propagated by institutions and societies seeking to not only normalize racial injustice but also benefit from it. But if there’s one thing that history has shown us, it’s that freedom favours the bold. And you’re never too young to make a difference, leave an indelible mark or create a new standard from which the world has no choice but to eventually, and ever so humbly, bend.

One of these trailblazing unicorn youngsters in the 1960s was a six-year-old girl named Ruby Bridges. She was born in 1954, a year that coincided with the US Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown vs the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, which ended racial segregation in public schools. Despite the ruling, though, the southern states continued to resist integration and Ruby had to attend an all-Black segregated New Orleans kindergarten.

One year later, a federal court ordered Louisiana to desegregate and so the process of change officially began. In 1960, Ruby started grade one and became the only African American student to attend the William Frantz School and the first Black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. This outcome essentially meant that the entire weight of integration was now arduously stacked upon Ruby’s tiny shoulders and placed her on the frontline of the racial battlefield. For the entire year, she was met with nasty threats and insults, and had to be escorted to/from school by her mother and four federal US marshals, who had to protect her from the violent White mobs.

“Racism is a grown-up disease.
Let’s stop using our kids to spread it.” – Ruby Bridges

Ruby spent her first day in the principal’s office because of the chaos created from White parents, angrily withdrawing their children from school. As the dust began to settle, she eventually found herself in a classroom of one – learning alone, eating lunch alone and playing alone at recess. But she never missed even one day of school that year. And, by the following year, more Black students and White students began attending together.

Ruby’s bravery was a milestone in the civil rights movement and her actions altered the course of many lives. A lifelong activist for racial equality and a champion for change, in 1999, Ruby established The Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote tolerance and create change through education. As Martin Luther King Jr would say, “The time is always right to do what is right.”