During February, Chalkboard will reflect on the amazing accomplishments of Black Americans beginning with Ruby Bridges.
In 1960, responding to a request from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Ruby’s parents volunteered her to participate in the integration of the New Orleans’ school system. This brave move was met with intense opposition by white parents, teachers, and community members. Only one teacher in the Ruby’s new school agreed to teach Ruby and for over a year, educator Barbara Henry, taught Ruby alone in an empty classroom.
As a result of their courage and dedication to civil rights, Ruby’s family endured a lot of punishment for their decision to integrate Ruby into an all white school: her father lost his job, the grocery store where her family shopped would no longer serve them, and her grandparents were turned off their sharecropping land in Mississippi. Pictured above is 6-year-old Ruby being escorted from school by U.S. Marshals.
The activist Ruby Nell Sales' reflects on how education helped developed her confidence and devotion to civil rights:
“My high school was a training ground for citizenship, for creativity, and for scholarship, and my principal and my homeroom teacher set the highest standards up for academic excellence. Although the world might have argued that black students were inferior, none of that touched us, because we thought that we were leaders, we thought we were smart…And the other thing that was very significant is that [our teachers] connected [us] with the project of freedom…our role was not just to get an education for our own career advancement, but…to play a role in moving forward the entire community.”
Listen to the entire Sales' interview here: https://www.loc.gov/item/afc2010039_crhp0007
Isabella Baumfree changed her name 17 years after she was freed from slavery to Sojourner Truth. Devoted to the abolition of slavery, Truth toured regularly speaking to large crowds about the importance of human rights the ills of slavery. Once, after delivering a speech, a heckler from the crowd yelled: “I don’t care any more for your talk than I do for the bite of a flea.” Truth quickly retorted: “Perhaps not…but Lord willing I will keep you scratching.” Listen to Truth’s famous 1851 speech Ain’t I a Woman here: https://youtu.be/rMc4th6o5Io
Junius W. Williams, an attorney, educator and musician, reflects on the defining moment that shaped his interest in the civil rights movement: “The picture of Emmett Till sticks in my mind now. That open casket picture in Chicago when…fifty thousand people filed by to see his bloated, disfigured body. I was a year younger, or maybe two years younger than Emmett Till, and I could just picture myself in that same situation. So, we got mad, mad, mad! That was one of the sparks that really lit the Civil Rights Movement in a lot of people’s hearts…”
To learn more about Junius W. Williams’ life and devotion to social justice listen to his Library of Congress oral history interview: https://www.loc.gov/item/afc2010039_crhp0037