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Echoes of the Past: Ruby Nell Bridges First Day at School (standard:non fiction, 2318 words)
Author: J. P. St. JulianAdded: May 23 2015Views/Reads: 651/501Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
I didn't know at the time, but I was to learn valuable lessons from this occurrence.
 



The year is 1960.  It looms vividly in my mind, even now.  I was 10
years old and my mother had recently brought me from my grandmother's 
to live with her and my new stepfather.  It had been a great summer 
vacation from school in our rural Southwest Mississippi County.  Then 
came the time all us kids usually dreaded, the day we went back to 
school.  I remember hearing my mother and her friend talking about the 
“situation” in New Orleans with some little girl that was going to be 
the first Black child to go to an all white school there.  I remember 
thinking to myself, “Why would any Black kid want to go to a white 
school?”  I later asked my mother what it all meant and she tried to 
explain it so I could understand it. 

I had from a very young age learned of White race prejudice and how it
impacted on Black people, but this new situation in New Orleans was the 
beginning of my true awareness of the integration problem and the Civil 
Rights Movement...  I had always been with Black people all my life.  
We rarely played with White children; it was just something that rarely 
happened in our part of Mississippi at that time.  The closest contact 
I had with White kids back then was when my mother sent me to the 
grocery store or to some White person's home (to the back door) to 
either get something, or take them something.  The White kids would 
come to the door and stare at me stupidly, as though I was some kind of 
oddity that they seldom saw.  It was very embarrassing and humiliating 
to me, and I would wish to myself that I was somewhere else.  I 
considered greeting them cordially and seeing if they wanted to talk, 
but that might have been a mistake, so I said nothing at all.  One 
never knew what a White person would do regarding the conduct of Black 
people in those days.  So, I just kept my mouth shut, and endured the 
humiliation of their gazes, whispers and snickers. 

Anyway, when my mother explained what this little six year old girl in
New Orleans named Ruby Nell Bridges was going to do in November of 
1960, I figured that she must be crazy!  I just knew the White people 
would kill her if she went to that school alone.  So you can imagine it 
was a time of tension for both Blacks and Whites in the area.  You 
could even hear Whites talking about it when you went to the store, or 
if you were at their homes doing some work.  None of them liked the 
idea that a black child would be in the same classroom with the white 
kids.  Many made jokes about it, especially when some of us black folk 
was around to hear. I vividly recall a Saturday in the local general 
store, which was about a mile from our house.  My stepfather took me to 
the store with him and when we went in, the storekeeper was talking 
with another white man.  When we walked in, the two seemed to get 
louder. They were talking about Ruby Nell integrating that New Orleans 
school. 

The storekeeper said, “I don thank it gonna happin m'self. Them
‘spectable White folk O' N'awleans ain't never gonna ‘low dat fer one 
thang,  Thet lil gal ‘n her Ma and Pa probly git run outa town or kilt 
fo' the good God fearin' White folk in N'awleans let Nigras in they 
schools.” 

“Yeah, gotta watch ‘em now,” said the first man, casting a glaring look
in our direction, “or purty soon our Nigras gonna start thankin' they 
kin jes walk right on over ter the White schools up heah!” he finished 
the sentence on a threatening note. 

I won't quote here the other vile statements about Black people that my
ten year old ears heard that day.  My stepfather grabbed me gently by 
the arm and led me from the store, a look of total indifference on his 
face.  When we were in the truck and moving up the road he said to me, 
“Son, don't lissen ta thet kind o' foolish tawk fom thet kine ‘a  
trash. Them men's ain't no good men, not men o' God, so we'uns got ta  
pray fa ‘um, tha's all.” 

I didn't understand it at all.  The storekeeper had always greeted me
warmly and smiled when I went to the store.  I was confused at this new 
conduct from him. He'd even give me free candy or cookies sometimes, so 
why had he changed so much, so quickly?  It hurt me to think that he 
would also say those things about me if I were in that little girl's 
place.  I was beginning to get my first lessons in White diplomacy as 
regarded “Colored” people in those days in Mississippi.  I would be 
learning many other lessons, many of them much harder than that one.  
But I didn't know it at the time. 



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