After that introduction that Spirit [Trickey] gave, I'm sitting there thinking, “Who in the world is she talking about?”
I'd like to first thank Dean Rutherford and Nicolai for extending this invitation for me to come and share my story with you. I am deeply honored and very appreciative. Thank you so much. And thank all of you for coming out tonight to listen to what I have to say.
Watching that film…. I'm always asked, “What do you think when you see that footage? What comes to mind?” And I always say how much I hated that doggone coat my mom made me wear and it's still haunting me to this very day.
You know, I'm always, always asked about that year and my experience going into first grade, and I have to say that the truth is is that I knew absolutely nothing about what I was about to venture into.
It was 1960 and it was time for schools to be integrated in Louisiana, in New Orleans, and it is my understanding that the people that spearheaded that whole movement was the NAACP. And they were going into neighborhoods and doing door-to-door searches looking for people that would agree to send their children to an all-white school in New Orleans.
My parents both were born in a small town called Tylertown, Mississippi. They were sharecroppers. And I've heard them talk all the time about not being able to go to school on a daily basis, that they had to get the crops in and so they were not able to go to school every day. And so the one thing that my mother wanted was for her children to have the opportunity for a better education.
My father, on the other hand, fought in the Korean War. And I remember him saying that even on the front line, when it was his turn to go on to the front line, that you could be side by side with a white soldier fighting for the same country and that if you lived that day and you went back that night or that evening that you were not allowed to go back to the same barracks, that you couldn't eat in the same mess hall as a white soldier. And so my father felt like it really wouldn't change things to send me to this white school. Why do it? And so he was against it.
But I always say, you know us women—we win in the end. And she did. She wanted her children to have the opportunity that she did not have. And so when the knock came at the door, she agreed and convinced my father to go along.
I was already attending an all-black school that was further away from my home, and I actually loved my school. Everyone in the school looked the same. I always point that out to kids when I'm speaking to them today that all of my teachers were black, all of the kids, the people that work there at the school—everybody looked the same. And I loved my school.
But now that was going to change. I remember my mom saying, “Ruby, you're gonna go to a new school today, and you better behave.” And actually that was the extent of what she told me.
You know, and I always get people to come up to me and they say, “Well, you know, couldn't you have said no, you didn't want to go? What did you say to your parents?” And kids especially don't understand that during that time, back then, you didn't say no and you didn't ask why.
And so I didn't. I found myself getting dressed that day, and I remember it seemed like everybody was so excited. They were so excited about this first day of school that the neighbors came over to the house, they helped my mom dress me for school that day.
And I remember the federal marshals driving up to the door and the knock on the door. When they knocked on the door, my parents opened the door and I remember standing there and seeing these four very tall white men, and I remember them having yellow bands on their arms. I thought to myself, “Well, who are they?” I dared not ask and I didn't. I remember them saying that, “We're federal marshals. We've been sent by the president of the United States, and we are here to escort you and your daughter to school today.” And I remember us getting into the car.
You know, living in New Orleans, we're accustomed to Mardi Gras—it’s a huge celebration, lots of people out in the middle of the street, and they're screaming and throwing things. And so there I found, that first day I found myself in the car driving this very short drive to this new school, and the minute we turn the corner I saw what I thought was Mardi Gras. I thought I'd stumbled onto a parade. There were so many people standing out in the middle of the street, and they were screaming and shouting and throwing things—exactly what you just saw on the screen.
The car door opened and those federal marshals, they grabbed my hand, and I remember them saying, “Ruby, walk straight ahead and don't look back,” and they rushed us into the building. When I got inside of the building, I remember it being very quiet. We walked up to the top of the stairs and when we got to the office we went in and we took a seat, and we waited there.
The next thing that happened is that crowd of people that you saw on the screen—they rushed in behind us. They rushed in, and as I sat there in the office with my mom, they seemed to be really angry about something. Their faces seemed to be angry. They passed the window there and I could see them. And a few minutes later they would come back by the window and there were kids with them. And they kept passing the window, back and forth, looking very angry and shouting.
And I sat there and sat there, and finally as the day went on, the bell rang. Someone came into the office and they said, “School is dismissed. You can leave.” And I remember sitting there and looking at the clock on the wall, it was like three o'clock, and I thought to myself, “Wow, this school is easy!” [laughter] I actually thought, “This is very, very easy.”
Nothing happened that day. The federal marshals took us, put us back into the car and drove us home.
Little did I know what was really happening when those people knocked on the door to ask my parents if they would be willing to send their kids to integrated schools. My parents knew absolutely nothing about what they were about to venture into. Surely they knew that there would be some opposition, but I remember hearing my mom, who said that she would send me the school and that every day she would sit and pray all day to three o'clock until I walked back through the door. They had no idea what to expect, and it was very, very hard for them.
My grandparents, who were sharecroppers who lived in Mississippi, farmed on their land for 25 years. They were asked to leave. People in Mississippi found out that it was their granddaughter that was causing all this trouble.
My father lost his job. He was a service station attendant. And I remember that night, him coming home. Because he worked right next door to a bakery and the night that he was fired, I remember him coming home with bags and bags of donuts and breads and all sorts of things and him saying to my mom that he lost his job, that his boss said that all of his customers were complaining. They knew it was his daughter. And so he wasn't able to work. It was extremely hard for them.
My mother—she was the one that took me to school every day. And I say every day…she was only allowed to take me to school maybe the first week or so, because during those days parents weren't allowed to go into the classroom. And so she went that first week and had to go back home, and she said that was the hardest time for her, sitting and praying and hoping that her child would come home.
My father was asked not to escort me to school, because they thought that it would be much easier for him to be upset and angered at the crowd. And so he wasn't allowed to walk me to school, which really, really upset him.
I remember the second day…the second day was the exact same thing. I remember getting dressed and the federal marshals coming to pick us up and getting into the car with them. When I got into the car with them and they…I remember them driving very slow to this new school. My new school was very close to my house. We could actually walk. And as a matter of fact, most of the people in my neighborhood—they walked with us, behind the car.
And I remember the second day as we drove up in front of the schools, the crowds were even larger than they were the first day. Because at that point, everyone knew which schools were going to be integrated. There were only two schools integrated in the city, and those two schools were kept secret. The only people that really knew which schools were going to be integrated was the people that were actually attending the schools.
And so what you witnessed on screen was parents that brought their kids to school and they didn't leave. They waited. They waited outside to see if indeed it was their school. And the minute I drove up they knew. So the very next day, the crowds were even larger.
I remember as they opened the door and we rushed inside of the building, when I got inside you could hear a pin drop. It was so quiet. When I got to the top of the stairs on the second day, someone said, “Your class is down the hall.” And those marshals, they turned me around and walked me down the hall to my classroom.
And when I got to this classroom, the door opened and a woman stepped out. And I remember looking at her and thinking, “She's white.” She looked exactly like the people that were outside, people that were screaming and shouting. But she said, “Come in and take a seat.” And I remember standing there and looking around her into this classroom and all I saw was empty desks, and I thought to myself, “My mom has brought me to school too early.” And indeed I was too early. But I went in, and I took a seat.
And the teacher—her name was Barbara, Barbara Henry. She began to teach me. What I soon realized is that Mrs. Henry looks exactly like the mob outside, but she's not like them. She's different. And she was. She filled my day with things to do. She made school fun. I loved school and it was because of her. She was different. She showed me her heart. And I knew that I could not judge her the same way as I could judge the mob outside.
You know teachers actually quit their jobs because they did not want to teach black children. Yet this woman came all the way from Boston to teach me. And she was like another mom to me. I absolutely loved school.
The lesson that I took away that year is the lesson that I believe Dr. King tried to teach all of us, and that is that we should never look at a person and judge them by the color of their skin, that we owe it to ourselves to get to know one another.
It is extremely important to me that I deliver this message across the country, especially to kids, because my experience comes from that of a child and I don't believe that any child should have to go through what I went through simply because of the color of their skin. It's a very valuable lesson that I learned, and it's extremely important today.
I spend the majority of my time traveling across the country speaking to kids in schools, because I believe that if we are to get past our racial differences it's going to come from our kids.
I always say to kids that if you ever go into a nursery and you see all of these babies kind of lined up there together that not one baby will turn and look at the other and say, “I am NOT living next door to you. [laughter] I am NOT going to like you, love you, play with you.” Babies don't do that.
And it's not because they can't talk. It's because each and every one of us come into this world with a clean fresh heart, a clean start. We know absolutely nothing about disliking each other. Racism is something that's passed on. It's us—we as adults. We have kept it alive and we've passed it on. And here we are today—we're still dealing with the same thing—racism. And I think that that is such a disservice to our children.
And I say that because I actually have kids of my own. And I remember my youngest child being six years old and I remember him coming home and saying to me, “Mom, I want to go to a new summer camp.” And I said, “Well, what's wrong with the one that you're going to?” And he says, “Well, this one is different. They have all kinds of neat stuff for boys, and I really want to go.”
And yet I remember taking the flyer and looking at it and and noticing that it was a school way across town in a different neighborhood, different people. I knew that they were people that didn't look like him. He didn't understand that. So he kept saying, “I really want to go, Mom. I really want to go.”
So I looked at him and I said, “Son, you're not gonna know anybody there. I think your summer camp is a good one. Why don't you stay there?” And I remember him looking at me, straight in my eyes, and saying, “Mom, I'll get to know them.” [laughter] And I thought to myself, “Okay, Ruby Bridges, [laughter] now you have to practice what you preach.”
And so I enrolled him. And I remember the first day going to pick him up. And he's coming to the car and he's a little sad. His head is down. And I opened the door and he gets into the back seat and I said, “Did you have a good day?” And he said, “No.” And I said, “You didn't?” He said, “No.” And I said, “Why not?” And he says, “Why I didn't have anybody to play with.” And I said, “Why?” He says, “Well, I went over to the group. Every time I went to a group to ask them if I could play, they said, no, that they had enough players.” And I said, “Son, you know this is only the first day. Tomorrow it’ll be a new day. I'm pretty sure you'll make friends.”
And so I remember picking up the phone and calling the school and saying, “Listen. There's a couple of things that I wanted mention to you about my son. First is that he's taking swimming lessons.” And she said, “You know, we have lots of watersports here.” And I said, “I understand.” And she said, “So do you feel like it's gonna be a problem?” and I said, “Well, you know he's taking lessons. He doesn't know how to swim but he thinks he knows how to swim, so I would like for you to just keep an eye out for him.” And she said, “Definitely, we'll do that.” And I said, “And one other thing. He came home today. He was really upset. He didn't make any friends. And I was hoping that you would bring him over introduce him to some of the other counselors, older ones, and maybe they could introduce him to some younger kids.” And she said, “Definitely, we can do that. We want him to be happy here.”
So the next day I go back to pick him up. He's walking to the car and his hands are filled with all kinds of things. He has a hat and balls and all sorts of things, and he's, big smile on his face, and he comes and he gets into the car. And there's three or four older counselors with him. And they speak to me, and they shut the door, he gets in.
And I said, “Wow! You look like you had a good day.” He said, “I did.” I said, “You did?” He said, “Yes, I made friends. You were right.” And I said, “Really? So how did you do that?” He says, “I made five friends.” And I said, “I can't believe that! So how did you do it?” He says, “Well, I jumped in to swim. I was drowning and five friends….” [laughter] He said, “Five friends jumped in to save me.” [laughter] I will never forget that because I remember my husband looking at me like, Oh God. [laughter]
But you know it reminded me of something. It reminded me of me being six. It didn't matter that he was drowning. What mattered to him is that he had five friends and he didn't care what they looked like. And I remembered that. I remembered day after day going into that classroom and looking for the kids, hoping that the kids would be there. And they weren't.
I was never allowed to eat lunch in the cafeteria. People were always outside, threatening to harm me in some way. They kept screaming, “We're going to poison her. We're going to hang her.” And the federal marshals—they met with my parents and they said, “You should prepare a lunch and she should eat it at her desk. They're threatening to poison her and so we don't want her in the cafeteria.” And all I wanted was to eat lunch in the cafeteria.
You see because I remembered at the all-black school that I had gone to, all of the kids met in the cafeteria and we all had lunch together. And so every day I could smell the food cooking in the cafeteria but I wasn't allowed to go. So in my mind I kept thinking, they're not cooking for me—they must be cooking for the other kids, and so the kids are in the cafeteria. I have to get to the cafeteria.
And so I decided that when my teacher would leave to go and get her lunch that I would take my sandwiches and I would go to the back of the class and I would open up this cabinet and I would throw my sandwiches into the cabinet. And I would take my milk and pour it into this huge paste jar we used to use paste to do art with. And so I would pour my milk into the paste jar and she would come back and she would say, “Did you finish your lunch?” And I would say, “Yes.” But I didn't. Because I wanted to go to the cafeteria. I wanted to make friends.
Well, I have to tell you the mice got really, really bad in that class. [laughter] Mice started running all over the class and she was afraid of mice. So she called in the janitor. He came in searched the whole class. I remember that day, standing there. When he went to the back and opened up that cabinet, all of my sandwiches came falling out. [laughter] I was in a lot of trouble.
A lot of trouble because they actually thought that I was afraid of being poisoned. So when they called my parents in for this conference, it was really a big deal. And I remember them coming to me and saying, “Why were you not eating? And why did you lie?” And I said, “Because I want to eat lunch in the cafeteria with the other kids.” And they finally took me to the cafeteria.
You see, up until that day I was never allowed to go on to the playground. I would stand at a window and look out of the window onto the playground and all I saw was these same very tall white men with yellow bands on their arms. They were walking around the bushes, standing underneath the trees. And I remember sharpening my pencil and thinking to myself, I'm the only kid in the whole school. Nobody else is here.
So that day I remember being so excited because they were taking me to the cafeteria. And I could smell that food cooking, and we walked all over the school. Until that very day, I'd never seen my school building. They would bring me up one flight of stairs in the morning and down that same flight every afternoon. So that day it was like a field trip because I had an opportunity to see my school.
The minute we got to the cafeteria and they pushed open the doors—nothing but empty tables. There were no kids. And I remember being so disappointed about that. I just knew they were in the cafeteria. My teacher, Mrs. Henry, she got a tray she sat down and she ate with me, and those federal marshals, they stood right over us.
When it got really cold I would go into this coat closet to hang up my coat and every time I went into the closet I would hear kids—voices—and I would mention it to my teacher and she wouldn't say anything. She just ignored me. And there were days when I would go back into the closet and I would just stand there, just to see if I really heard them. And I did. Finally, I realized what was going on, because after telling Mrs. Henry over and over again, “I hear kids,” what I didn't know—I thought she was ignoring me. She wasn't.
You see, there were white parents who tried to send their kids to school with me. Those white parents had to cross the same picket line that I did, and they were never protected by federal marshals. And so as they crossed the picket line and took their kids to school, the principal would take the kids and she would hide them so they would never see me and I would never see them. But when I went into the closet I heard them
And Mrs. Henry? She was constantly going to the principal and saying, “You're breaking the law. The law’s changed and kids are supposed to be together, yet you're hiding them. If you don't allow them to come together with Ruby I'm going to report you to the superintendent.”
And so that forced them to take me to where those kids were. And that is a day that I will never forget. Because I remember Mrs. Henry took me right back into that closet and there was a door there that I had never seen. She unlocked it and we walked through that door. It led to another room. And the minute we got into that room, she pushed open the door and there they were. Four or five kids were sitting there on the floor, playing.
And I remember walking into that room and seeing them and thinking to myself, I knew I heard kids. [laughter] There they were, and I was so excited. It never crossed my mind that they looked different.
I went in to sit down to play with them. But that is the day. Because a little boy looked at me and he said, “I can't play with you. My mom said not to play with you because you're a n*****.”
And the minute he said that, I remember to this very day, it felt as if this weight lifted off my shoulders, that all of a sudden by him saying that, I knew why there were no kids there. And I thought to myself, so that's what this is about. It's about me and the color of my skin. It's not Mardi Gras. That's why there's no kids here. It's all about me.
And the truth is—even though he hurt my feelings, I was never angry with him. Because in my mind, I thought he was explaining to me why he couldn't play with me. He said, “My mom said not to play with you.” And I thought to myself, if my mom had said, “Ruby, don't play with him—he's Asian. Don't play with him—he's Indian, he's Hispanic, he's mixed-race, he's white.” If my mom had said not to play with him, I would not have played with him. So I wasn't angry with him—I understood.
But today—today I don't understand. I don't understand why we are still taking racism and passing it on to our kids. I don't understand that. Our kids have so much more on their plates than we had when we were growing up, that we do our children such a disservice when we tell them that they need to only be friends with, only play with, only love people that look like them.
We do not have that luxury today. We live in a very different world. Each and every one of us in this room—we understand that good and evil comes in all shades and colors. Evil doesn't care who it uses, doesn't care what you look like. If we are about good, why should we care? If you are about good and what I am about, it doesn't matter to me what you look like. I want you on my team.
It is so important that we get past our racial differences, that we understand that it is crucial—absolutely crucial—that kids understand racism has no place in the minds and hearts of our children.
I say that because I have lost a son myself. He was actually murdered. And I know that the people that stood over him looked exactly like him. We do ourselves a disservice if we teach our children to only trust people that look like them, and then we open our door and we send them out into this world today.
We have to come together for our children. We're losing too many of them. And so I always say to kids, “Racism is a grown up disease. We should stop using our kids to spread it.”
And that is the message that I want to deliver to you tonight. As I said, I decided to make this my life's work simply because it happened to me when I knew absolutely nothing about racism. I learned everything I needed to know that year in that classroom back in 1960. And it is so important today for me to pass that same lesson on to each and every one of our kids.
Which brings me here today, this evening. I'm so honored and proud to be here in a place that has decided to take on public service, to understand that you can actually teach it. Because we do need each other and we do need to take care of one another.
I think it's very, very important that we start as early as possible teaching that lesson—community service, social justice—that it really doesn't matter what you look like—we're all in this together and we have to take care of one another.
Actually that very day when I was in that car with federal marshals and the whole community walked behind that car—that was community service. That was taking care of their own. Which is what we have to get back to.
The truth of the matter is is that I received thousands of letters, all across the country, people from all walks of life, people that looked exactly like you who said, “Leave her in school. You are doing the right thing.” People that sent money because they knew that my father had lost his job, people that sent the clothes that I wore.
I remember—I don't know, maybe ten years ago—I met someone who came up to me and said, “You know, I actually sent you clothes to wear to school.” And I thought, oh my god. Thank you for that.
But that's what we need to do again, and I believe that those same values can be taught to kids at a very early age.
And so when I had an opportunity to meet Dean Rutherford to talk about the Clinton School and the work that they're doing there…. You see, I wanted to come here to speak to the students, because part of my vision today is to actually apply for a charter to operate the very same school that I integrated. I believe that that school should actually teach history.
We all know that in schools today history is not being taught the way history happened, which is a shame. We are so busy covering up the truth that we're covering up the good.
When I'm in schools—it's amazing that kids are not aware of the three young men that were murdered in Mississippi during voters registration, and the fact that two of them were white and one was black and that they were friends. Kids really are not aware of that story.
The woman that came from Detroit, went down to Mississippi to help drive people back and forth—she was white, left her family. Shot and murdered. Kids don't know that story. They don't know that person's name. Not until recently did we know about the four little girls that were bombed in a church.
There's so much very rich history that's been swept under the rug. It is time that we began to teach history the way history happened, so that each and every one of our kids know that their ancestors made a contribution to this country. We absolutely have to teach history in a different way. And that's what I want my school to do.
I also want that school to specialize in community service, because we have to give back. We have to take care of one another. And social justice. Kids need to understand at an early age that you must share your toys.
And so I wanted to be here tonight to speak to the students that are here, to challenge you to help me. I believe that you are doing such important work here today, but it's work that should start at a very early age. And so I am challenging you to help me to develop curriculum that we can use to teach what you guys are learning right here to teach it to younger kids. [applause]
It is very, very important work. I am extremely proud of the fact that you have the school here and I wanted to come here to speak to you, because I believe that it is a model that we can duplicate across the country.
You know, it is such a shame that kids are not getting those same value and lessons at home. And so we have to take responsibility and we have to begin to teach it in school. It's not just about reading and writing and arithmetic anymore. We have to teach them values, so that we can all begin to live together, to grow together and to understand that we're all a part of one race and that is the human race.
Thank you so much. [applause]
DEAN RUTHERFORD: We're going to we're going to take a few questions, and please wait until the microphone gets there. Let me just say that before we do that: Clinton School students—you have just been challenged to draft a curriculum of public service for what may be the most unique elementary charter school in the country, and I assume you will accept that challenge. I think your dean certainly wants you to accept that challenge. All right, we have some…raise your hands if you have a question…Right back here…Yes, ma'am.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, Miss Bridges—did you remain in the same elementary school through the remaining years of your schooling?
BRIDGES: I did. I actually attended that school through sixth grade and then went to a junior high school which was maybe two blocks away. It was also an integrated school.
RUTHERFORD: We have a question right here and I'll just give her this mic.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: As you progressed in up to sixth grade, did it become more integrated as time went on?
BRIDGES: The plan was to integrate by grade level, so they started with first grade, two schools in the city and once that year was over and I went into second grade, then the schools were integrated in second grade across the city. Again by the time I got into third grade there were Black kids in third grade with me, but also Black kids in third grade across the city. So it progressed that way through sixth grade.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm just so glad, Miss Bridges, to really see you. I'm from Louisiana so I'm really glad to see you. Okay, my question. I'm 50 years old. I was among the African Americans that were, in the 70s generation, that were bused. My question for you is, do you think integration helped improve the education of African American students since you integrated William Frantz Elementary and those of us who were bused to white schools? If so, how? If not, why not?
BRIDGES: You know, I would have to speak from my own experience. I believe that the majority of African Americans at that point in time really wanted their children to have the same opportunities, to have an opportunity, as my mother always put it, to have better books, better resources. And if I speak from my own point of view, I would have to say yes. But I've been criticized for that because what I've been told is that you were tutored, you had a one-on-one relationship with a teacher. And that may very well be true, but I had kids of my own. And I've had two of my kids that wanted to go to all-black schools, got a very good education. But then the last two kids that I had went to integrated schools, and they were exposed to different activities that maybe they wouldn't have had an opportunity to participate in. So I think even today that there's a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure that our schools are equal. Because again, it's not just reading, writing and arithmetic. There's so many other resources and activities that I think our children need to be exposed to, in every school.
RUTHERFORD: We have a question right here, hold on. You got a question right here?
AUDIENCE MEMBER (CHILD): Do you have a sister or brother?
BRIDGES: Do I have a sister or a brother? Believe it or not, I am the oldest of eight—four boys and four girls. That's a lot of sharing. [laughter]
AUDIENCE MEMBER (CHILD): Why did your mom and dad choose that particular school?
BRIDGES: Why did my mom and dad chose that particular school? That particular school was close to my house. Remember—I said earlier that I was attending an all-black school first? I went to an all-black school for kindergarten which was further away. I had to walk a long ways to get to that school. But this school was right around the corner and even though it was an all-white school, once the law changed that meant that kids could be together, and then I didn't have to walk as far. Okay?
RUTHERFORD: Little girl right here by…close to Sherry Walker that’s got her hands…got her hand up…right there…a little girl.
AUDIENCE MEMBER (CHILD): How many years was it until your first day until the other children came to at school?
BRIDGES: The other kids…Remember the kids that I said was in the classroom that I thought was hiding from me? They were there. I didn't see them until the end of that school year, and then by the time I got into second grade the school was filled with kids.
RUTHERFORD: Little girl right back here at the back that has…right back here, ma’am, right at the back, at the back, all the way at the back. She's back here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER (CHILD): Did you always stay in contact with Miss Henry, your teacher?
BRIDGES: No, as a matter of fact, Mrs. Henry and myself wasn't in touch for about 30 years. I met her in 1995 when the first book was published. Our names were never made public and so once she left Frantz School for second grade, by the time I got into second grade, she was gone. I really didn't know her name or how to get in touch with her, and it took actually 30 years before her and I were reunited on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
RUTHERFORD: We have a question right here from this little girl. Here you go.
AUDIENCE MEMBER (CHILD): How did your son get murdered?
BRIDGES: My son…. You know that is a sort of a long story. But he was actually driving and someone drove up next to him and shot into his car. But it was a lot of different events that kind of led to that. Sad story.
MODERATOR: You have a question….
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, my name is Sydney Shearer. I'm a first-year Clinton School student. My question is, I feel like even though we've come so far with in-training schools there's still a lot of school systems that seem like they're segregated. You have private schools that are predominantly white and public school systems that are predominantly African American or minority. And I'm wondering what your thoughts are on maybe how we can begin to kind of integrate those systems.
BRIDGES: I think that, uh… You're absolutely right. I spend almost every day in a different school across the country. And I have to honestly say even though I've taken great pride in finding the best schools for my four sons and some of them were public schools—one of them went to a Catholic school—there was so much that I was not aware of until I started to do this work. I remember the very first time I went to a school in California to speak to kids, and it was on—it was a private school—sat on, I don't know, maybe 30 acres, huge Olympic-sized swimming pool, the cafeteria was like a restaurant, they had a laptop on every desk, there were only maybe eight to ten kids in the class. I remember that to this very day. And then there was another time that I went to a school in Detroit, Michigan, to speak to kids—inner-city school, the windows were broken out, it was snowing and they were sitting in the classroom with coats on. And after seeing that I thought to myself, now if you really had to think about where our next leaders are gonna come from—your governors and mayors and presidents—probably more likely the school in California with a laptop on every desk. That if a child sitting in that school in Detroit—he would have to have everything going for him—everything—and even then he would have to have someone to open a door for him. And I thought about that and I thought, you know, this is truly not equal, but it had everything to do with money. And until we decide to take our money and put it into our schools, I believe they'll never be equal. [applause]
RUTHERFORD: Yes, ma’am, right here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER (CHILD): How did your teacher feel, meeting you?
BRIDGES: How did Mrs. Henry feel when we met on The Oprah Show, after 30 years? She was so excited. I mean it was unbelievable and I was, myself. There were things that I had questions…. I had questions that I really wanted answers to that only she could answer, things that only she could confirm because it was only her and I in that classroom for the whole year, so it was really like meeting a parent that I had been separated from. So it was, it was amazing for both of us.
RUTHERFORD: I have two announcements to make. Number one, on October the 4th—which happens to be the 70th birthday of Elizabeth Eckford—on October the 4th—Minnijean [Brown-Trickey] and I both read this book so I'm going to give it a plug—David Margolick’s new book, “Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock,” will be published and David Margolick will be at the Clinton School to speak and sign his book. So if you if you are interested in the story of the civil rights of education, then do that. Secondly, Ruby's going to sign the books that you have here tonight. So if you will allow Nikolai [DiPippa] or someone as she walks around to position herself at the book-signing table, we will let her, if you’ll let her get over there to sign. We could go on forever but we just simply can't, we've run out of time. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Ruby Bridges. [applause]
BRIDGES: There's one last thing that I want…. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to come and share my story with you and to deliver the message that I wanted to you students. But I want to show you, when you think about how far we've come and how much further we have to go. I want to show you another video, something that just recently happened and it really, really made me think about just how far we've come and how much further we have to go.
Clinton School Speakers. (2020, July 22). Through My Eyes: Ruby Bridges 2011 [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3QNPLLxrFs