What did you learn in first grade?

Ruby Bridges is 58 years old today. But she made history before she was old enough to even understand the importance of her actions. She was 6 years old when she broke down a racial barrier and entered Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. She was too young to understand why the police had to escort her the school. She didn’t understand why parents took their children out of school. She didn’t understand the yelling crowds in front of the school that first day. And she didn’t understand why only one teacher, Barbara Henry, was in the school. Day after day, for an entire year, Barbara Henry taught to a classroom with only Ruby in it.

Ruby understands now. And what she understands is that racism has to be taught. At the time she entered school that day, with police escorts, angry mobs, and racial slurs being yelled at her, she knew nothing about the racism that raged around her. “None of us know anything about disliking one another when we come into this world,” she says today. “It is something passed onto us. We should never look at a person and judge them by the color of their skin. That’s the lesson I learned in first grade.”

4 Responses so far.

  1. Lisa Diamond Stein says:

    How beautifully stated. I read that through tears in my eyes. Ruby was lucky enough to learn this lesson in first grade. For others, including many adults, they still haven’t learned this lesson.

  2. Mary says:

    Hi Julie,
    I found this piece really stirring. Especially in light of a conversation you and I had about bias’s. I’m not sure how to articulate what it’s stirred. But I loved when my son, asked at the dinner table, “what’s a sin?” When Paul and his brother were referring back to their Catholic upbringing. I think of a dialogue in a Tom Stoppard play, Arcadia. When the young girl says to her tudor, “I’ve noticed that when I stir the jam into my pooridge, it can’t be unstirred.” Maybe it’s knowing our biases, our prejudice but being more then just “aware” of them, being responsible for how we act on them. Do we alienate others? Or do we welcome them? I think about that in regards to friends who have their children in private school versus public.
    What I love about Arny’s work, what I love about neurobiology and what I love about the day in history that changed Ruby’s and our lives, is the very important word, integration.
    Thanks for stirring me in a way that can’t be unstirred!
    Love to you,

  3. Rho Sandberg says:

    Makes me cry…so poignant.

  4. dawn menken says:

    thanks for posting this Julie, very moving!

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