53 years ago, most of the world was viewed in black and white. Much of the nation was against the integration of schools. Then, an innocent little black girl who thought the yelling and throwing of objects was just a part of a Mardi Gras celebration walked alongside four U.S. Federal Marshals as they escorted her to what had been an all-white elementary school.
“I remember being in the car and the minute we turned the corner and I saw all those people outside. My first thought was – It’s Mardi Gras today! I’m in a parade,” said Ruby Bridges. “Far from it,” said Charles Burks, the only surviving member of four U.S. Federal Marshals assigned to protect six year old Ruby Bridges as she attended first grade in a new school on November 14, 1960.
More than five decades later, the pair who changed the face of history, sat in The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ replica of that original New Orleans classroom from William Frantz Elementary School. With memories surging within those familiar four walls, the pair shared their thoughts on Civil Rights then and now.
Ruby Bridges says it wasn’t until she went into her classroom in 1960 with no other children present that she understood that something was wrong. “I thought I’m being punished because you guys (the marshals) were standing there at the door; but, I didn’t know what I did.”
Later, Ruby saw people waving a black doll in a baby’s coffin. That’s when she realized the crowd wasn’t cheering for her – but against her. Former marshal Charles Burks is proud of how that little girl carried herself way back then. Many times, he has likened her to a little soldier, “Most little girls at that age would be crying, or carrying on or wouldn’t want to go,” he said. “She never did that.”
Fast forward five decades and Ruby Bridges feels like there is still much work to be done. “I’ve been told that nothing will change unless we get up, step up, and make change. Make it happen,” she said. “I believe that the next generation, they need a cause to get behind…they need to create a new movement to move us 50 more years ahead.”
“We feel honored to be a part of this extraordinary moment in time,” said Dr. Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and CEO, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. “The Power of Children gallery at The Children’s Museum will be able to feature a video recording of this compelling and historic conversation between Ruby Bridges and Charles Burks for future generations. It is our hope they are inspired by the real people who not only survived troublesome times but grew stronger and more determined to make a positive difference in the world.”When they parted ways, Charles Burks presented Ruby with his Federal Marshal pin.
A video link to a portion of the interview between Ruby Bridges and Charles Burks along with video can be found at http://db.tt/eDWZurLW
Several decades after Bridges integrated schools in the South, she feels systemic inequality remains a glaring issue in urban schools. The mission of the Ruby Bridges Foundation is to foster racial healing and promote racial equity both locally and nationally.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is a nonprofit institution committed to creating extraordinary learning experiences across the arts, sciences, and humanities that have the power to transform the lives of children and families. For more information about The Children’s Museum, visit www.childrensmuseum.org , follow us on Twitter @TCMIndy, Facebook.com/childrensmuseum and YouTube.