Ruby Bridges, the civil rights icon who in 1960 broke racial barriers in education when she became the first African-American to attend an all-white elementary school, will share her experiences as part of Niagara University’s annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.
The free public presentation will take place at 5 p.m. on Jan. 31 in the Russell J. Salvatore Dining Commons at Niagara University. The event is sponsored by NU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Bridges was 6 years old when she became the first African-American child to integrate a white Southern elementary school on Nov. 14, 1960. After being escorted to school by her mother and four federal marshals, Bridges spent the entire day in the principal’s office of William Frantz Elementary as irate parents marched into the school to remove their children.
On Bridges’ second day, Barbara Henry, a young teacher from Boston, began to teach her. The two worked together in an otherwise vacant classroom for an entire year. Every day as the marshals escorted Bridges to school, they urged her to keep her eyes forward so that – though she could hear the insults and threats of the angry crowd – she would not have to see the racist remarks scrawled across signs or the livid faces of the protesters.
Toward the end of the year, the crowds began to thin and, by the following year, the school had enrolled several more black students.
Bridges’ bravery inspired the Norman Rockwell painting The Problem We All Live With, as well as several books and movies. Her memoir, Through My Eyes, was released in 1999, the same year that she established the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which uses educational initiatives to promote tolerance and unity among schoolchildren.
Bridges, now Ruby Bridges Hall, still lives in New Orleans with her husband, Malcolm Hall, and their four sons. On Jan. 8, 2001, Bridges was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton. In 2011, Bridges met with President Barack Obama who told her, “I think it’s fair to say that if it hadn’t been for you guys, I might not be here.”
Three years later, a statue of Bridges was unveiled in the courtyard of William Frantz Elementary School.
“It is a privilege for us to be able to offer our students the opportunity to interact with trailblazing African-American activists like Ruby Bridges and Dr. Bernice King, who spoke at Niagara last year,” said Averl Harbin, NU’s director of multicultural affairs. “In accordance with the university’s Catholic and Vincentian mission, it is our responsibility to establish an environment where people can have constructive dialogue around diversity and social justice.”
Below is the full schedule of activities coordinated by Niagara University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs in observance of the federal holiday that marks the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Wednesday, Jan. 17
4:30 p.m. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer and Reflection
The campus community will come together for a prayer and reflection honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Alumni Chapel.
Friday, Jan. 19
7 p.m. – Screening of Marshall
Attendees will watch the Hollywood biopic on Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, which features faculty from Niagara’s theatre department. Dunleavy Hall, Room 127. (All films/videos are intended for the educational instruction of Niagara University students.)
Thursday, Jan. 25
4 p.m. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Ceremony & Reception
Niagara University students present varied entries that celebrate the accomplishments and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Gallagher Center, Lower Level.
Friday, Jan. 26
7 p.m. – Screening of Ruby Bridges
Attendees will watch the made-for-TV movie about the civil rights leader. Dunleavy Hall, Room 127. (All films/videos are intended for the educational instruction of Niagara University students.)
Wednesday, Jan. 31
5 p.m. – Keynote Speaker: Ruby Bridges
Ruby Bridges will deliver an address in Niagara University’s Russell J. Salvatore Dining Commons.
For more information, please contact Niagara University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs at 716.286.8510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.