Lucille Bridges, the mother of civil rights activist Ruby Bridges, has died at the age of 86. On her Instagram account Tuesday evening, Ruby said, “Today our country lost a hero. Brave, progressive, a champion for change. She helped alter the course of so many lives by setting me out on my path as a six year old little girl. Our nation lost a Mother of the Civil Rights Movement today. And I lost my mom. I love you and am grateful for you. May you Rest In Peace.”
Ruby became the first Black child to attend an all-white school in New Orleans in 1960 when she was only six years old. Her mom, Lucille, walked her to school every day amid threats and screams of racist slurs.
Lucille gave birth to Ruby in Tylertown, Mississippi, in September 1954. A few months after her birth, a lawsuit to desegregate the school system in America was decided. The court ruled that it was unconstitutional for schools to be segregated. Lucille and her husband Abon were among the African-American families that responded to a request by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and allowed their daughter Ruby to volunteer in the integration program.
On the first day, Lucille and her daughter were escorted to school with U.S. Marshals. Driving to school, they encounter crowds on the way, shouting and screaming at them. Once in school, many white parents pulled out their children and all the teachers except one refused to teach with a Black child in attendance. For a whole year, Ruby was taught by Barbara Henry, the only teacher who was not bothered by the presence of a Black child in the school.
And though Ruby would move on to become an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, she always mentioned the fact that her parents were “the real heroes.” Her father, Abon, was at the outset against the idea of sending her to an all-white school but her mother, Lucille, stood her ground. Lucille, who was born to sharecroppers in Mississippi, believed her daughter should have the education she never had.
“Lucille’s strength was unbounded during this period,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who acknowledged her role in the Civil Rights Movement contributions in a statement Tuesday night, AP reported.
“Lucille insisted, seeing the action as an opportunity to help all Black children, and walked Ruby, with federal marshals, past chanting and taunting white protesters and to the schoolhouse. Mother and daughter both revealed their character and courage.”
The threats and the protests that followed were not the only things Lucille and her family had to deal with. Her husband was sacked from his job and her parents were turned out from their farm in Mississippi. However, the local community was able to rise up for them. Abon was offered a job by a neighbor; others babysat the other children and protected the house, and many others followed behind the marshalls’ car en route to school.
After Ruby, many other Black children were able to attend the school including her nieces. She graduated from a desegregated high school and became a prominent member of society.