Bob Stannard: Why all those parents hated Ruby Bridges
This commentary is by Bob Stannard of Manchester, an author, musician and former state legislator and lobbyist.
The year was 1960. The school was the William Frantz elementary school in New Orleans, an all-white school. The little girl, Ruby Bridges, only 6 years old (the same age as my granddaughter), was Black. Thanks to the elimination of segregation, this little girl was able to go to a presumably better school.
When I was 6 years old, I attended the school at the foot of Danby Mountain Road. It had a potbelly stove for heat and a boys and girls “in-house” for bathrooms (and in-house is an outhouse, only indoors. You get the picture). I did not need an armed escort to allow me into my humble little school. Ruby did.
In 1960, I was 9 years old and living in the whitest state in the country. Had it not been for the Equinox Hotel bringing in Black help from Mississippi, I may never have seen a Black person until I went off to college. By 1960, we were wrapping up the age of innocence. Racial tensions in the South were heating up. Kids in Vermont had no clue what was happening down South.
Did Ruby Bridges’ parents decide to send their child to this all-white school to make a point or so their child would get a better education? Who knows, but there’s no argument that this little girl who suffered racial verbal attacks every day she attended this school must have received quite an education. The parents of the white kids relentlessly shouted and taunted this poor little girl for one and only one reason: the color of her skin.
By the time I entered Burr and Burton high school, other kids of color were being brought into our community to attend then-BBS along with me through what was known as the “Links Program.” BBS reached out to schools that were predominantly Black or Hispanic and chose a handful of kids to come to Vermont.
I don’t recall ever experiencing any racial problems with these kids, but there may very well have been some isolated episodes. What I can say is that there never was a time when the parents of students at my all-white school stood on the sidewalk with placards bearing hateful, racist words or small, handmade coffins with a Black doll inside. Yet, that is what the 6-year-old Ruby Bridges had to endure each and every day she went to school.
For the kids of today who may be reading this, 1960 may feel like a long time ago, but for me it doesn’t. Although I lived through the civil rights era in America, it didn’t have a huge impact on me, primarily because I was living in a nearly all-white state. We didn’t have any race issues, because we only had one race.
By the time non-white kids began arriving at BBS. our community didn’t seem to care all that much about the color of their skin. Maybe it’s a Vermont thing. Who knows. Perhaps if my parents had sent the 6-year-old me to an all-Black school in Harlem, things would have been very different for me.
How would I have reacted if an angry mob of Black people were shouting racial slurs at me just because I was white? I’ll never know, but the Ruby Bridges of today sure does.
Now 66 years old and a grandmother, she’s had a lifetime to reflect on her school days of 1960. She could not imagine putting her kids or her grandchildren in the same position as she had been placed. It was terrifying for her and her family. Both of her parents lost their jobs. Their commitment to having their little girl get a better education cost Ruby’s parents their marriage. We could only try to imagine how hard this decision must have been, but never having been in those tiny shoes, we’ll never truly know.
What was Ruby’s response to those people with hate in their hearts and horrible words spewing from their mouths? She prayed for them. The more empathy this child showed, the more vile hatred was thrust upon her.
Today we hear white politicians from red states try to tell us that there is no systemic racism in America. They want us to believe that the hatred exhibited by their grandparents was never handed down from generation to generation. They want us to believe that everything is just fine, while simultaneously working overtime to disenfranchise Blacks and other minorities from their constitutional right to vote.
Babies are not born hating or loving anything. Hating, loving, narcissism, empathy are all things that are learned from their parents. Parents who have hate and rage in their hearts will undoubtedly hand that hate and rage down to their kids. Sometimes the kids will ignore what’s being fed to them. Other times they lick the spoon.
America has been a racist nation since its inception and we’ve never come to grips with that reality. Congress has a voting rights bill ready to be voted on. Passing it would be another step forward to counter our racism. Will it pass? I doubt it.
Read the story on VTDigger here: Bob Stannard: Why all those parents hated Ruby Bridges .