If Ruby Bridges is a civil rights icon, it's because her mother, Lucille Commadore Bridges, made it so she could be.
Lucille Bridges was remembered as a fearless and courageous leader who broke through the segregated education systems of the Deep South. A determined woman, who would not allow the color of her skin to hold her back from what she felt was sacred and right.
On Tuesday, Bridges died at her home in New Orleans. She was 86. Her daughter told the Washington Post she died from cancer. When New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced Bridges passing, she called her “one of the mothers of the civil rights movement.”
That iconic 1960 photo of Bridges clutching her 6-year-old daughter Ruby’s hand while U.S. Deputy Marshalls escorted he pair through crowds of white protesters screaming racial slurs and chanting "two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate" to her first-grade class at William Franz Elementary School said it all.
“Don’t pay them no attention,” she told her daughter about the hecklers. “Just pray for them.”
That historic day would go down in history, as Ruby became one of the first Black students to attend an all-white school.
On May 17,1954, four months before Ruby was born, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka became a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that U.S. state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional, even if the segregated schools are otherwise equal in quality.
Despite the ruling, many schools across the South stonewalled any movement toward integration until federal courts ordered them to admit Black students. One such school was William Frantz in New Orleans, the newspaper reported.
Ruby's family had moved for better employment opportunities when she was 2 years old. Ruby’s father worked as a service station attendant, and her mother earned money cleaning hotels and making caskets. The decision to enroll Ruby in a school that was 100% white sparked disagreements between her parents that led to their separation, Ruby would later write. In 1978, Ruby’s father Abon Bridges died.
Ruby dedicated her 1999 book, “Through My Eyes,” to her mother, calling her “an unsung hero, for having the courage and faith to take a stand — not just for her own children but for all children,” and quoted her mother's own words. “I wanted a better life for Ruby,” said Bridges.
In 2006, Bridges was photographed alongside the original Norman Rockwell 1964 painting that her daughter helped inspire, “The Problem We All Live With,” smiling and looking ever so proud. The painting is at Norman Rockwell Museum's permanent collection.
Bridges was the daughter of a sharecropper who worked on the fields of Mississippi alongside her parents. Recalling that she hauled 90 pounds of cotton the day before Ruby was born on Sept. 8, 1954, in Tylertown, Mississippi, Bridges would say she had achieved what she had set out to do: get her daughter a proper education that she herself had been denied.
Bridges prevailed and gave her daughter the remarkable life that she had hoped for.
Ruby went on to become a civil rights activist, author and speaker. After her mother's passing, Ruby went to her Instagram to post a touching tribute to her mother, a woman who inspired so many.
“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,” she said. “Our nation lost a Mother of the Civil Rights Movement today. And I lost my mom. I love you and grateful for you. May you Rest in Peace.”