Saturday, April 5, 2008
I spent the afternoon yesterday in my daughter's class, reading to them about Ruby Bridges.
Ruby was one of the first black children integrated into white schools. To get to school, she had to walk through angry crowds of white adults shouting obscenities at her. She got death threats. All of the teachers refused to teach her, except for one. All of the parents withdrew their kids from her class. She sat alone in her class, with her teacher. She had to be escorted to school by armed guardsmen. She was 6. This was 1960.
I had to pause a few times in my reading. It's awfully hard to read words like, "the angry white parents shouted death threats at Ruby and withdrew their kids from school so they wouldn't be near her" to a room full of black kids. I wanted to apologize. I kept saying, "This was a really ugly time in American History." I think I said that 6 times as I read the book.
The teacher led a discussion about how we would have managed, had we been Ruby. My favorite response was the student who said she'd just put on her iPod so she couldn't hear the death threats as she walked by. Now, that's resourcefulness!
As I left, it occurred to me that reactions to things like Wright's speech are framed in our knowledge of history and life experiences. I daresay that the most of the kids in our neighborhood who attend the lily-white private schools haven't ever heard of Ruby Bridges. That happened half a century ago. Ancient history.
But I suspect that most of the congregation of Wright's church is intimately familiar with Ruby and her story. This happened in 1960 - that's not that long ago. It's painfully etched in their memory.
All I know is that while I was reading that book to those kids, I wasn't particularly proud of this particular part of our country's history. Does that make me unpatriotic?
Ruby Bridges is a strong leader today. But ironically, her foundation was waylaid by Katrina.