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Second General Session

Ruby Bridges inspires with her words, actions in battle of good vs. evil

BridgesCivil rights icon and American activist Ruby Bridges told a packed room at the Second General Session of the Joint Annual Conference on Saturday that she likely wouldn’t be where she is if it weren’t for the education community.

“My biggest supports are in education,” said Bridges. “I wouldn’t be standing here today if it weren’t for educators across the country.”

Bridges walked the audience through the early years of her life, which at age six saw her become the first African-American student to integrate an elementary school in the south. Although born the same year as the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended racial segregation in public schools, southern states refused to integrate schools.

Bridges had attended kindergarten at a segregated school in New Orleans, but in 1960 a federal ruling ordered that Louisiana must desegregate its schools. African-American students were forced to take an entry test in order to attend the all-white schools. Bridges and five other girls were the only children to pass the test.

On November 14, 1960, Ruby Bridges would become the first African American student to attend a desegregated school in the southern United States. The two other students that were selected to attend William Frantz Elementary that day decided to stay at their current schools, leaving Bridges as the only African-American enrolled.

“I knew nothing about what was taking place at that time. What protected me was the innocence of a child,” reiterated Bridges. “I thought I must be on my way to college.”

That morning, four U.S. marshals escorted Bridges and her mother to a waiting car to drive the few blocks to her new school. She remembered the whole neighborhood was so excited they followed the car and walked her to school, which they continued to do every day. Outside the car, Ruby saw the screaming and shouting, and people throwing things.

She again explained that her child innocence shielded her. “I thought I was caught in a parade. So, I’m on to college, and now I’ve stumbled into a parade,” she remembered.

Bridges spent her first day at her new school in the principal’s office until it was time to go home. On her second day of school, the anti-integration crowd had doubled in size. After being rushed into the building she recalled the complete silence as the school was empty because parents had pulled nearly every child out.

On this day, Ruby met Barbara Henry, her teacher for the year. “I had never seen a white teacher before. She looked like the people outside but wasn’t like them at all. She was the nicest teacher I ever had. I loved school because of her. I knew I would learn something new every day.”

Bridges spent most of her first year of school as the only student in Mrs. Henry’s classroom. She wasn’t allowed to go to the cafeteria or the playground. “How am I going to make friends if I can’t go to the cafeteria? I want to eat lunch in the cafeteria with the other kids,” said Bridges.

Eventually, Mrs. Henry demanded the principal to integrate Ruby with the few other kids at the school. When sitting down to play with the other children, one student told Ruby that his parents told him not to play with her because she was African-American. The realization of what was happening had finally started to peel away Ruby’s childhood innocence.

Johnson “That was the day I realized what was happening. I just wanted a friend,” Bridges said. “Each child comes into this world with a clean heart. It’s the adults that passed these message onto a child.”

Prior to Bridges’ keynote address, Illinois ASBO President Cathy Johnson addressed the crowd and spoke of building a legacy of excellence. Johnson then called long-time Illinois ASBO employee and educator Calvin Jackson to the stage to introduce Michael McHugh as the winner of the first-ever Calvin Jackson Career Impact Award.

AwardAlso at the Saturday general session, IASB President Joann Osmond introduced past IASB presidents: Joseph Alesandrini, 2010-11; Carolyne D. Brooks, 2012-2013; Christy Coleman, 2002-2003; Nancy Elson, 1990-1991; Karen Fisher, 2013-2014; Joan Levy, 1984-1985; Dennis McConville, 2001-2002; Marie Slater, 2006-2007; and Phil Pritzker, 2015-2016.

Acknowledged with them was former IASB Executive Director Michael D. Johnson (2000-2012).

Ruby Bridges went on to discuss the battle of good versus evil, relating to a tragic event that occurred in her adult life. Bridges lost her oldest son who was shot and murdered.

“The world is far more dangerous today that it was 50 years ago,” said Bridges. “Racism is just another tool used to divide us. It’s more about good and evil. Evil comes in all shades and colors. Evil only needs an opportunity. Evil is not prejudiced.”

“I refuse to believe there is more evil than good in this world. The good needs to stand up. We need to work together to take back our country. We need to come together to make our schools better and safer for our children. It has nothing to do with the color of our skin.”

At the conclusion of her remarks, a large line of attendees waited to meet and speak with Bridges outside the Conference Bookstore, and to get autographs of her book, “Through My Eyes.”


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