(A speech written and delivered by Anjali Rodrigues, daughter of Shuba and Alan Rodrigues, Batch of 1979. Anjali used this speech in her school’s oratorical contest, when she was in middle school, to win at the school, district, and state / regional levels. She then represented the state/region at the nationals in Chicago. She is now pursuing her graduate studies at UCLA.)
Do you remember your first day of school? The excitement of buying new shoes, picking out your school supplies, laying out your outfit the night before. Then the thrill of meeting your new teacher, and kids our own age. Making your first friends, learning your letters and numbers. Who can forget their first day of school? Ruby Bridges never will.
I'M GONNA POISON YOU! YOU DON"T BELONG HERE! KEEP BLACKS OUT OF OUR SCHOOLS! These were some of the first things Ruby heard as she approached Frantz Elementary on her first day of school.
Huge crowds of white people gathered in front of the school, shouting death threats and cruel remarks, and holding signs, which expressed their anger of having black children in white schools. Ruby obviously needed protection from the unruly mob, but the city and state police refused to escort Ruby to school! So President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent armed federal marshals to protect Ruby. To protect a six year old on her way to school.
So how did Ruby react to all this? How did a six year old cope with death threats and cruel remarks, the consequence of trying to receive an equal education? Did she cry? Did she refuse to come back to school? No. Ruby Bridges walked pass that mob every day, days that turned into weeks, and weeks that turned into months. She ignored the hostilities so she could receive an education.
When Ruby Bridges was young, black and white children went to separate schools in New Orleans. The black children were unable to receive an education that was equal to the white children's. This was unfair, and it was also against the nation's law. So in 1960, a judge ordered four black girls to go to two white elementary schools. Three of the girls were sent to McDonogh 19, while six year old Ruby Bridges was sent all alone to William Frantz Elementary School.
So every day, Ruby would walk silently past the mob and into her classroom, which was empty, except for her and her teacher, Ms. Hurley. Parents did not send their children to school because they didn't want their kids to go to school with black people.
Ruby was all alone, with no other children to play or learn with.
But this didn't bother Ruby. Every day she would enter the classroom with a smile on her face, ready to learn whatever Ms. Hurley would teach her.
How does a family deal with a challenge this great? The Bridges family attended church every Sunday, thanking God for the opportunity and asking Him to give them the strength to stand up for what they believed. Both Ruby and her parents were very proud to take part in this important event in history. Their strong faith sustained them through these difficult times.
One day, Ruby stopped right in the middle of the rioting mob. Her lips were moving. She seemed to be talking to them. The marshals were afraid, and tried to hurry her on, but she didn't budge until she finished speaking. Then she walked into the classroom. When her teacher asked why she was talking to the crowd, she said, "I wasn't talking to them. I was praying for them."
Every day Ruby would say a prayer for the people who hated her. Today she had forgotten to say the prayer until she was right in the middle of the mob.
"Please God try to forgive those people. Because even if they say those bad things, they don't know what they're doing. So you could forgive them, just like you did those folks a long time ago when they said terrible things about you."
Eventually, the other children started coming back to school. The mobs stopped. It was obvious that Ruby was not going to let them intimidate her. Ruby overcame by holding her head and spirit high and not letting anything get in her way. She is a credit to all American people. She overcame the situation and her plan to fight back was most effective. As Anne Frank once said, "The sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit."