Meg White: The Exodus
Meg White is a lifelong educator and advocate for public schools. She’s also a co-author of William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans, an excerpt from which appears in a recent post.
On November 14, 1960, six year old Ruby Bridges, accompanied by her mother and surrounded by Federal Marshals entered the doors of William Frantz Public School, becoming the first Black student to enroll. Across the street from the school was a vitriolic crowd of White mothers and children, who screamed epithets and held signs clearly stating their objection to Bridges’ enrollment. Unbeknownst to anyone, another onlooker in the crowd was John Steinbeck. Today’s excerpt is his observation of the scene at WFPS.
In 1960 John Steinbeck chronicled events at William Frantz Public School (WFPS) In the immediate days following Bridges’ enrollment and captured what he and millions of others saw on television and read in the newspapers. Steinbeck described Bridges’ daily arrival at school as a cautious trek from the car, up the steps, and into the building with U.S. Federal Marshals attempting to shield her from the shrilling crowd of women protestors.[i] Extensive press coverage in 1960, Steinbeck’s writings published in 1962,and Look’s inclusion of Norman Rockwell’s painting several years later,[ii] cemented WFPS firmly in the collective psyche of Americans and the social history of the United States.[iii] Although powerful and memorable, these depictions failed to fully capture the intensity of the events, the perseverance of the segregationists, or the far-reaching impact of racism. The vehemence of the protestors Steinbeck referenced seemed disproportionate to the innocence of six-year old Ruby Bridges, the oldest child of Abon and Lucille Bridges’ children. Born just four months after the Brown decision, Ruby lived in a country where the concept of “separate but equal” had been declared unconstitutional. Yet, prior to enrolling in WFPS, Ruby attended Johnson C. Lockett Elementary, the neighborhood school for Black children. In her world in the Upper Ninth Ward, segregated schools provided a constant reminder of just how separate and unequal things continued to be. Abon and Lucille Bridges were not integration or civil rights zealots and disagreed about sending their daughter to WFPS.[iv] Lucille, resentful of her own limited education, believed Ruby could only get a good education by attending WFPS.