Civil rights icon Ruby Bridges made history as the first black student to attend an all-white school in 1960, and now she’s sharing her inspiring story through a new children’s book.
“I Am Ruby Bridges” tells the story of the activist through the eyes of her 6-year-old daughter. It recounts her experience as the first black student to attend William Frantz Elementary School, an all-white school in New Orleans, and the challenges she faced.
Born in Tylertown, Mississippi in 1954, the same year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional, Bridges said she was the target of racial slurs, harassment and bullying from adults every day she attended school. In one incident, a white woman even held a black doll in a coffin, she recalled, scaring her to the core. Because of his enrollment, many white parents withdrew their children from school.
Bridges believes her 48-page picture book, which includes vivid illustrations by Nikkolas Smith and a glossary to help young readers learn new words, will teach important lessons to the next generation of activists.
“It’s important that all children know our full story, good or bad,” Bridges, 67, said in an email to NBC News. “It’s our shared history in this country and because of that, we should all know that history.”
After completing elementary school, Bridges graduated from Francis T. Nicholls Integrated High School. She married in 1984 and became a mother of four sons, working as a travel agent. In 1999, she created the Ruby Bridges Foundation, a nonprofit organization that fights racism and promotes equal rights. Bridges has written several books about her integration experience, including “Through My Eyes” and “This Is Your Time.”
With her latest illustrated children’s book, Bridges hopes to give young people a history lesson about America’s troubled past.
“The fact that my own introduction to racism came from this experience at just 6 years old entering the Frantz school is why this project is so important to me,” she said. “Because of the current climate around race relations, I feel like it’s a call for me to help teach at this same age and tell them my story.”
Although there appears to be a growing list of books about racism and inequality banned from schools across the United States, Bridges said she isn’t worried about criticism.
“There may be some backlash about this book, but that’s my story,” she said. “It is my vocation and the work I have chosen to do. I believe in my heart that if we are ever going to overcome our racial differences, it will come from our children.
“I hope this book inspires all children, not just children of color, to judge each other by the content of their character, not the color of their skin,” she added.