by Beth Bruno
Equal Opportunity, Equal Access
Editorís note: Ms. Bruno is on Summer hiatus. The Gazette will be re-running selected columns from her past articles featured on Teachers.Net
With all due deference to Websterís, desegregation and integration are not the same. Laws can require black children and white children to enter the same schools (desegregation), but no law can unite them into one student body (integration). It takes a person like Ruby Bridges to do that.
I had the distinct honor to dine with Ruby and friends a few weeks ago. This well-spoken woman told us about a period of time in 1960 when federal marshals, by order of the U.S. Supreme Court, escorted her into an all white New Orleans elementary school.
She was six years old then and it was her first day in the first grade. She had no idea why crowds of people, pushing against rope barricades, spat epithets at her. To block out their curses, she did what her mother told her to do; she prayed for them. "Please, God, try to forgive those people. Because even if they say those bad things, they donít know what theyíre doing."
When she entered the building, she noticed her reflection in the highly polished floors of eerily silent hallways. Where were all the kids? The principal escorted her to a classroom where, amidst rows of empty desks, her new teacher welcomed her. For nearly a year, every other child enrolled in that school stayed home, while the teachers, also publicly harassed, and Ruby, attended school.
The marshals continued to protect her from gradually dwindling crowds. This quiet, poised child in pinafore and pigtails steadily learned to read and write. In so doing, she taught a whole community of grown-ups some equally important lessons. One by one, parents sent their children, black and white, back to school. And, as children usually do, they all got along just fine.
"My teacher became like a second mother to me," Ruby told us. Many years later the two women met again. In reliving those remarkable days, they vividly recalled the fear, tears and laughter they had shared. They can look back in triumph now, proud of their place in history.
Today Ruby travels the country to familiarize others with her story, also chronicled in a recently published childrenís book, The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles, 1995.
Read Rubyís story to your children and grandchildren. Itís a lesson from history well worth repeating. Despite SUCCESSFUL school integration in some places, segregation and racial isolation still deny equal educational opportunities to many of our children. We owe them more. The Rubys among us will lead the way.
Note: We also owe our children greater equality of access to special education services.
Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown v. Board of Education
School integration in the United States:
Racial Integration incentives: Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Beth Bruno email@example.com
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