A six-year-old girl steps out of a car at William Frantz public school in New Orleans, Louisiana. Four towering federal marshals surround her. A crowd shouts racial slurs as tiny Ruby Bridges walks into history, becoming the first black student to enroll at an all-white school in the American South.
Now Bridges is 66 and has written a kids’ book about the experience called This Is Your Time.
The book is an open letter from Bridges to young readers. It includes images from the 1960s and from recent events. “During the first few days of watching events unfold in our country recently, I felt myself waiting for guidance,” says Bridges. “Having spent years speaking to young people about racism, I felt compelled to say something . . . I decided a letter to my young people was the way.” Bridges is also the author of Through My Eyes, a memoir published in 1999.
Bridges received the honor—and burden—of integrating first because she scored highly on an exam designed with the unjust intention of excluding blacks from schools. But Bridges was very bright, and so she was admitted.
To her, the crowd swarming William Frantz School looked like a Mardi Gras celebration. But protesters lingered as days passed. White parents pulled their children out of school, and Bridges was left sitting in her classroom alone. She was not merely a little girl going to school. She had become a focal point in America’s war against racism.
But God sent Bridges a precious gift in a lonely time: her new teacher, Barbara Henry. Mrs. Henry came from Boston. She treated Ruby kindly and taught her that the protesters outside were struggling with anger, ignorance, and the difficulty of changing an old way of living. And Ruby’s faith in God enabled her to forgive them. Every day in the car on the way to school she said a version of Jesus’ prayer on the cross: “Forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”
As the year went on, kids filtered back into school. Ruby quietly passed first grade and moved on. In the fall, more black children enrolled at William Frantz too. Little by little, integration took hold.
Is the work of integration done? Do students of all races learn together, respect one another, and receive equal treatment everywhere in the United States? Bridges doesn’t think so—and that’s why she writes.