Civil rights figure: US divided by race again
Published 10:27 am Friday, November 14, 2014
NEW ORLEANS — Civil rights pioneer Ruby Bridges says America today looks a lot like the world she helped break apart 54 years ago: A nation with segregated schools and racial tension.
“You almost feel like you’re back in the ‘60s,” said Bridges, who is now 60 years old. “The conversation across the country, and it doesn’t leave out New Orleans, is that schools are reverting back” to being segregated along racial lines, she said. “We all know that there are schools being segregated again.”
On Nov. 14, 1960, Bridges — then 6 years old — became the first black student to attend a previously all-white elementary school in New Orleans.
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On Friday — 54 years later to the day when she first walked up the steps to William Frantz Elementary School — she commemorates that event with the unveiling of a statue in her likeness at her old school. Also, she is reuniting with the white teacher who taught her and with the sole-surviving U.S. marshal who walked her to school. Her mother, who was adamant about sending her daughter to the all-white school, will be at the reunion too.
Bridges said racism remains painfully real today.
She pointed to the tense events in Ferguson, Missouri, after a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man, revelations about racist comments made by owners in the National Basketball Association and how so many American schools have failed to become racially mixed.
Back in 1960, Bridges, flanked by U.S. marshals, had to walk past a mob of jeering segregationist protesters and Confederate flags to enter her school. One woman shouted threats to poison her. Another woman showed up at protests with a coffin with a black baby doll in it. All the white students at the school were pulled from classes and teachers quit — leaving Bridges as the school’s only student.
Bridges said racism was a problem before President Barack Obama’s election but that his presidency has fueled racism.
“Race is a very hot topic right now,” she said.
She looks at her own experiences as evidence of a new segregation.