Lucille Bridges, who escorted her daughter, famed civil rights activist Ruby Bridges to integrate a New Orleans elementary school in 1960 through a crowd of racist white people, has died. She was 86.
The news was confirmed by Ruby Bridges on social media Tuesday (November 10).
“Today our country lost a hero,” Ruby Bridges wrote of her mother on Instagram Tuesday. “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.”
Bridges gave birth to Ruby in Tylertown, Mississippi, in 1954, the same year that Thurgood Marshall helped lead the fight and ultimately win the famed Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that desegrated schools across the country. In 1960, Ruby became part of American history after painter Norman Rockwell captured her walking with U.S. Marshals with books in her hand to school. The piece was called, “The Problem We All Live With.” However, Ruby doesn’t credit Rockwell with her resolve for facing racism. Instead, she always thanked her parents.
“My parents are the real heroes,” the U.S. Marshals Service quoted her as saying. “They (sent me to that public school) because they felt it was the right thing to do.”
The painting has gained renewed interest following the 2020 Presidential election. The adapted version shows Vice President-elect Kamala Harris‘ walking alongside Ruby, showing the difference in 60 years how one can go from being a hero for breaking one glass ceiling in regards to race to perhaps breaking the highest. Harris was elected to the Vice Presidency, becoming the first Black person, first Black woman, first woman and first South Asian woman (among other titles) to do so.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell released a statement on Tuesday, writing of Lucille Bridges, “Today we mourn the loss of one of the mothers of the Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans with the passing of Lucille Bridges — mother of five, including Ruby Bridges,” Cantrell said. “May she rest in God’s perfect peace.”
She added, “Lucille’s strength was unbounded during this period. 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.”
Although Ruby’s father Abon Bridges was hesitant to send his daughter to the all-white William Frantz Elementary School, Lucille insisted, wanting her daughter to have the education she never got a chance to have. Every day, Lucille would wake up and walk Ruby to class.
PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Ueckert / AP file