This photograph was taken outside William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was one of the first schools in the Deep South to be integrated after the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision had legally overturned the Jim Crow laws. The photo depicts the school’s only African-American student, Ruby Bridges, being escorted to class by US Marshals.
What the photograph doesn’t show is the large crowd that had gathered outside the school, shouting and throwing rocks at the young girl. Ruby admits that this was a terrifying experience, but one of the deputy marshals in the photograph, Charles Burks, remembers her as far braver than she does. “She showed a lot of courage,” he said. “She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we’re all very, very proud of her.”
This story of triumph almost never happened. Ruby’s father was afraid of the violence his daughter might encounter at the all-white school and didn’t want her to attend, but her mother convinced him otherwise. White families pulled their children out of the school, and only one teacher, Barbra Henry, agreed to teach Ruby. The US Marshals were dispatched by President Eisenhower himself to ensure the girl’s safety. Ruby had to spend the whole day in the principal’s office and was only allowed to eat food from home, as one white mother hadthreatened to poison her. She later became an accomplished civil rights activist. (x)