In “This Is Your Time,” Ruby Bridges Urges a New Generation to Keep Fighting

VISIBLE GEM This has been a bittersweet month for Ruby Bridges, the civil rights icon who was the first Black student to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans. On Nov. 10, four days before the 60th anniversary of her first day at William Frantz Elementary, Bridges’ mother died at the age of 86. Lucille Bridges was known for escorting her 6-year-old to school under the guard of federal marshals while protesters chanted and threw eggs. This went on for a full school year.

Nov. 10 also happened to be the publication day for “This Is Your Time,” Ruby Bridges’ book for “the young peacemakers of America,” now in its second week on the middle grade hardcover list. The veteran activist describes it as “the silver lining in all of what’s going on right now,” and as a response to the murder of George Floyd. “I was compelled to reach out to the young people I’ve been talking to about racism for the past 25 years,” she says. “I felt like I’d let them down because I’d spent so much time helping them to understand that racism has no place in their hearts and in their minds. And yet, here we all were, watching this.”

In the collection of photographs and reflections, Bridges recalls the scrum required to escort her to first grade — a protective entourage that inspired Norman Rockwell to paint “The Problem We All Live With,” which recently circulated as a meme featuring Vice President-elect Kamala Harris walking alongside Bridges’ shadow.

Bridges isn’t sure she’d have the courage to send her child or grandchild into such a heated environment. “But that was a different day,” she explains. “I do believe that we as African-Americans felt like if we were ever going to see change, we had to step up to the plate to do it ourselves. There were lots of people, not just my mom and dad, who did that. We are standing on the shoulders of so many people who paved the way.”

In her years of speaking about racism, Bridges has encountered one white person who showed remorse for opposing her arrival at the school. An older man pointed to his 17-year-old face in a horde of demonstrators and told her how “it was a thing he regretted and always thought about. He had changed his life and wanted to apologize for it.”

For the most part, Bridges remembers getting along well with her classmates. She says, “It was just the adults who were passing this behavior on to their children. We know that that’s how racism has survived all these many years.”

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