By Staff Blogger
Imagine being a six-year old girl simply trying to attend school, but almost everyone around you hates you because of the color of your skin. Ruby Bridges did not set out to do anything historic, she simply wanted to learn. Her bravery led to the de-segregation of many schools in the South. She instantly became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement and was immortalized in a celebrated Norman Rockwell picture that captured her first day of school.
In 1960, Ruby Bridges was the first student to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans. Standing by her side that day,to ensure her safe entrance into the school ,was Charles Burks. Burks, who is now 91 years old, was one of four federal marshals who protected the young Ruby.
This week the two were reunited at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Bridges is grateful that Burks went against the racial norm of the day to protect her, “Thank you Charlie for doing what was right at a time when it might not have been the easiest thing to do,” she told him.
Burks, in turn, expressed his gratitude for playing a role in helping to enforce the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision to desegregate public schools. He explained, “It was a privilege to be able to do what I did, even though it was one of my duties. Everybody says it was just another job to do, but it was a wonderful job,” said Burks.
Bridges, who is now 58 and still lives in New Orleans, remembers the vile chants and the horrific image of a black doll in a baby’s casket as she passed through a sea of angry white faces. For many years, she had nightmares. She recalls, “I would dream that this coffin had wings and it would fly around my bed at night, and so it was a dream that happened a lot and that’s what frightened me.”
Ruby Bridges now uses her experiences to educate and inform others about this very dark period in American history. Events such as this help to remind people that many of the children who were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement are still very active in helping to pave the way for future generations.