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American History


and the desegregation of southern schools


top: a teacher instructs a segregated class of black students at a poorly funded, one-room school in the backwoods of Georgia in 1941.

In the south of the USA not so far ago, African American children couldn’t attend the schools they wanted. Even if there was a school next to their house.

Segregation, or Jim Crow Laws, were implemented after the civil war and the subsequent abolition of slavery. Its slogan or motto was “separate but equal”. Every store, school, zoo or other public spaces included a separation of some sorts.

bottom : Overton Park Zoo, Memphis Tenessee implementing segregation in the 1950's


left: a teacher instructs a segregated class of black students at a poorly funded, one-room school in the backwoods of Georgia in 1941.

Jim Crow laws were just institutionalized racism, some kind of apartheid.
As such, millions of children were shut out of a good education because they were black.

Fortunately, some schools for black children were built with money sent by Northern foundations.

right: protests in 1960 in front of Rich's segregated restaurant

10 years

"May 1954: Nettie Hunt and her daughter Nickie sit on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, after the high court's ruling in the Brown vs. Board of Education case that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Bettmann / Corbis

In 1954, the year Ruby Bridges was Born, the supreme court of the US deemed the Jim Crow laws unconstitutional and revoked them.

That did not however, stopped segregation from happening in the south of the USA.

The first attempt to integrate south american schools ended up in a fiasco now known as the Little Rock incident. Indeed, nine students intented to integate Central High School school in little rock and where welcomed with massive protests.

10 years

Indeed, nine students intented to integate Central High School in little rock, Arkensas and where welcomed with massive protests.

Top : a group of teenage boys protesting the integration of their school in Tennesse during the summer of 1956.

Bottom : segregationist protestors surround Elizabeth Eckford, one of nine black students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957.

6 year old

"Sixty years ago, in 1960, my life changed forever. Although I was not aware of it, my country was changing too.

What I remember about that time, through my six-year-old eyes, is that there was extreme unrest, much like we see today.

I was chosen to be the first black child to go to an all-white school, William Frantz Elementary, in my hmetown, New Orleans."

Ruby Bridges, This your Time 2010

6 year old

When Ruby Bridges Arrived at school this day, she was welcomed by thousands of protesters. All the white parents pulled their children out of the school and Ruby was left alone.

Not only did the parents extracted their kids, the faculty, the teahers, had also left the premises.

The institution had to bring in a teacher from Boston to teach her as no one from the south would.

The US Marchals also had to drive and escort her to school every day for the entire year.

Segregationists protested the attendance of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges outside William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, 1960.

Parents outside William Frantz Elementary School holding a coffin with a black doll as they protest integration, New Orleans, 1960.

The red tomato symbolises the anger and the violence of the protesters. We are also part of this audience.

What would you have done in the same situation?

In this painting, the color yellow represents power :

- the power of the state via the police badges and armbands

- the power of knowledge, symbolised by the school ruler

- the power of religion with the golden wedding ring

Here in the pocket of this man's suit we can make out a letter. It is probably the letter thet president Kennedy wrote that gives them the power to desegregate the school Ruby is supposed to go to.

She has a strong grip : her fist is tighly closed which shows her determination and will.

We don't see the face of the policeman probably because the artist wants to keep the focus on little Ruby but also because military men represent the Governement (which has no face).

We can see the determination of this little girl in her posture and looks. She looks proud, straight up, doesn`t flinch or hesitate and her body language gives the sensation of confidence.

She is walking a bit faster than the policemen - because she is a bit forward - which could mean that she can't wait for things to change and wants to precipitate things.

Normally progress means going eastward : to the right .

Except the americas were conquered westward : first with Chriastopher Columbus then the far west.


Ruby's personal teacher was Barbara Henry.

They both spent a year in a small classroom, apart from the rest of the students and teachers.

Even though desegregation was on its way, it was still not fully accepted until the end of this first year.

Thankfully, Ruby was able to integrate her 2nd grade in a regular classroom, with classmates and a teacher.

More than a year after her first day at school, Ruby Bridges finally enjoys a normal schooling.


Nowadays, Ruby Bridges is still advocating for african american rights and tours the schools of the US to share her experience with the next generation.

She is also a writer and an activist.

Ruby Bridges visited the White House to see a painting of her historic first day by Norman Rockwell. The artwork was on display outside the Oval Office through the summer of 2011


.Protesting Jim Crow , Georgia 1960
Arrest of Martin Luther King, Atlanta, 1958
Students from Clinton High, Tenessee, 1956
Segregated school, Georgia, 1941
Ruby Bridges, in front of her housedoor, New Orleans, 1960
Ruby Tête haute, 2017
The Wonderful World of Disney, Ruby Bridges, 1998
Parents protesting, Willam Franz School, 1960
Ruby Bridges and Barbara Henry, Willam Franz School, 1960
Ruby Bridges and Barrack Obama, White house, 2011












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