November 14th, 1960

Six-Year-Old Ruby Bridges Integrates New Orleans Elementary School

In August 1955, African American parents of students in New Orleans, Louisiana, public schools sued the Orleans Parish School Board to challenge its failure to desegregate local schools in compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The following February, United States District Court Judge J. Skelly Wright ordered the school board to desegregate the city’s schools. For the next four years, the school board and state lawmakers defied the federal court's order and resisted school desegregation.

On May 16, 1960, Judge Wright issued a federal order demanding the gradual desegregation of New Orleans public schools, beginning with the first grade. The Orleans Parish School Board convinced Judge Wright to accept a more limited desegregation plan, requiring African American students to apply for transfer into all-white schools. Only five of the 137 African American first graders who applied for a transfer were accepted and four agreed to attend, includig six-year-old Ruby Bridges.

On November 14, 1960, Ruby Bridges started first grade at the previously all-white William Frantz Elementary School. The other three black students entered first grade at another school. Four federal marshals escorted Ruby into the school past a riotous white mob organized by the local White Citizens Council. When Ruby arrived in her assigned classroom, she and the teacher were the only two people present; it would remain that way for the rest of the school year. Within a week, nearly all of the white students assigned to the newly-integrated elementary schools had withdrawn. Despite threats and retaliation against her family, including her grandparents’ eviction from the Mississippi farm where they worked as sharecroppers, Ruby remained at Frantz Elementary and, in 1961, advanced to the second grade. That year, the incoming first grade class included eight black students.