(Photo Credits: David Terry, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
How hard was it for you, guys, to go to your elementary school? We know it’s been many years since then but do you still remember?
We are asking because Ms. Lucille Commadore Bridges’ extraordinary story is probably something that is either not known to many or it’s maybe something that’s been long forgotten already. And this is why, today, we would like to pay our respects to Ms. Bridges who passed away from cancer this November 10, 2020.
Her daughter, Ruby Bridges—the first African American student to integrate an elementary school in the South—broke the sad news on Instagram herself saying:
Today our country lost a hero. Brave, progressive, a champion for change. She helped alter the course of so many lives by setting me out on my path as a six year old little girl. Our nation lost a Mother of the Civil Rights Movement today. And I lost my mom. I love you and am grateful for you. May you Rest In Peace.
Meanwhile, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell took to Twitter to talk about Ms. Bridges’ passing; she described her as “one of the mothers of the Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans.”
Lucille's strength was unbounded during this period. Her husband was reluctant when the request came from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to participate.— Mayor LaToya Cantrell (@mayorcantrell) November 11, 2020
Today, folks recall Ruby as the little girl depicted in Norman Rockwell's painting 'The Problem We All Live With,' and more recently might see a reimagining of the image now including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris walking alongside little Ruby. pic.twitter.com/0Yrwm1mQeY— Mayor LaToya Cantrell (@mayorcantrell) November 11, 2020
Like every other story, hers began with “once upon a time.”
Once upon a time, the U.S. had a segregated education system. It was not until May 17, 1954 that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the country’s “separate but equal” doctrine, ending school segregation through the landmark case Brown v. The Board of Education.
Ms. Bridges, a Black woman, gave birth to her daughter Ruby that same year.
Six years later, on Nov. 14, 1960, she brought Ruby to William Frantz Elementary School—an all-white school in New Orleans—for her first day. They were, however, escorted by federal marshals and they were met by protesters who hurled eggs and tomatoes and screamed, “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate!”
The marshals, who she said “were heavily armed and kept a machine gun in their car” had protected them and kept them from being struck. Lucille Bridges said, “And that’s the way we lived it for a whole year.”
Ms. Bridges would later say in a 2016 interview that they were blocked by two city police officers that day when they were already at the school doors, telling them that they could not go in. Two of the marshals they were with however, had said, “The United States president said we can.”
But the family’s troubles did not stop there. Lucille and her husband, Abon, lost their jobs because they dared to enroll their daughter to an all-white school and the family had to be supported by the N.A.A.C.P. for a number of years. Moreover, their friends—they reportedly lived in an all-Black neighborhood—had to take turns guarding their home and because of the continued protests, Ms. Bridges would escort Ruby to her school every day for a whole year.
Today, that incident 60 years ago is immortalized in the Norman Rockwell painting titled “The Problem We All Live With.” It shows her daughter Ruby as she was being escorted by the four marshals to school.
In an interview with The New York Times, Ruby Bridges, an author and activist, described her mother as someone who was “very determined,” and someone who “took education very seriously.” Ruby Bridges explained, “I think it was because it was something that neither her nor my father was allowed to have. And ultimately that’s what she wanted for her kids — having a better life for them.”
Lucille Bridges’ advice to the children of today was for the kids to: “Study, listen to what their teachers tell them, and their mothers and fathers.” She added, “After they get their education, they can be any person they wanted to be: doctors, lawyers or anything. But you have to have that education, and I would love for them to just listen to my story so they can know how hard it was for my kids to go to school.”
Ms. Bridges was the daughter of sharecroppers Curtis and Amy Commadore. After attending eighth grade, she stopped going to school in order to help her parents in the fields. Read more about her here.
Rest in peace, Lucille Bridges, and thank you for being an agent of change in education.