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Monday, May 29, 2017

Ruby Bridges was 6 years old when federal marshals escorted her through a screaming crowd of angry white adults so that she could be the first black child to attend an all-white school in the South.

On the morning of Nov. 14, 1960, the marshals drove Ruby and her mother to her new school, just five blocks from her home. Two of the men walked in front her, and two behind. Four years later, this historic moment appeared on the cover of Look magazine, in a painting by Norman Rockwell titled “The Problem We All Live With.”

All. Every last one of us.

In the painting, Ruby is dressed in white — white dress with a bow at the small of her back, white socks, white sneakers — and marching forward with a ruler and notebook in her hand. The marshals are wearing suits and yellow armbands. She is walking against the backdrop of a wall splattered with thrown tomatoes and the word “NIGGER” scrawled just above her head.

She was a brave little girl that day. Years later, one of her federal escorts, Charles Burks, said she never cried, never whimpered. “She just marched along like a little soldier.”

Ruby entered the school and spent the first day in the principal’s office. Ultimately, only one teacher — Barbara Henry, a new transplant from Boston — agreed to instruct her. Ruby was Mrs. Henry’s only student in the class for most of that year because all of the other parents refused to allow their white children to learn alongside her. She brought lunch from home because marshals were afraid a woman might make good on her threat to poison her food. Another woman approached her one morning with a black doll in a wooden coffin.

Rockwell’s oil painting, on a 35-by-58-inch canvas, is an iconic image from that dark period in our history. In 2010, President Barack Obama requested that the painting hang outside the Oval Office to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ruby Bridges’ historic walk into that school. The following summer, she visited the White House to view the painting with the president.

“I think it’s fair to say that if it hadn’t been for you guys,” he told her, “I might not be here, and we wouldn’t be looking at this together.”

She was visibly moved. “Just having him say that meant a lot to me,” she said later that day. “But to be standing shoulder to shoulder with history and viewing history, it’s just once in a lifetime.”

I hadn’t planned to start this column with the story of Ruby Bridges. I was going to first tell you about a political cartoon by conservative Glenn McCoy that is getting a lot of attention this week. I changed my mind after spending time earlier today with my journalism students in the ethics class I am teaching at Kent State University.

First, I showed my students McCoy’s cartoon for the Belleville News-Democrat, which replaces Ruby Bridges with an infantilized version of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She, too, is flanked by marshals; the wall is still splattered with tomatoes. But the graffiti over her head is “CONSERVATIVE.” McCoy added a swipe at the largest teachers union by scrawling “NEA” at the wall’s edge.

The cartoon is meant to depict DeVos, whose appointment required an unprecedented vote by the vice president to break a tie in the Senate, as a victim. She was, after all, temporarily blocked by protesters from entering a school in Washington, D.C. She entered through a different door, and that was that for the white billionaire.

“So like Ruby Bridges,” says absolutely no one familiar with civil rights history in this country.

After I showed my students Rockwell’s painting, we talked about that brave little black girl and the history behind Rockwell’s painting. Our discussion confirmed, yet again, my faith in these millennials. They struggled mightily with how to strike a balance between McCoy’s First Amendment right to express his opinions with his art and their outrage over the false equivalence of this cartoon.

The reluctant consensus: Run McCoy’s cartoon, but counter it with the image of Rockwell’s painting, and tell the story of Ruby Bridges.

This is “The Problem We All Live With.”

We know what we have to do.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism.

IMAGE: William Frantz Elementary School, New Orleans, 1960. “After a Federal court ordered the desegregation of schools in the South, U.S. Marshals escorted a young Black girl, Ruby Bridges, to school.” Note: Photo appears to show Bridges and the Marshals leaving the school. She was escorted both to and from the school while segregationist protests continued. Public domain via WikiCommons.

16 Responses to This Is ‘The Problem We All Live With’

    • Oh, thanks to Teflon Donnie, subtlety is no longer required. Racists can be as open and out as they wish. All they need do is claim they are denied the right to practice their version of Christianity

      • And that element alone—an covert “Okie Dokie” signal from Donald and the GOP—has been the shadow of darkness that the dormant Dracula of Racism has waited for as a signal to come forth. To come out into the open brimming with confidence that there will no longer be reprisals and massive recriminations from government any longer, was the respite they’ve been waiting for.

      • Not quite sure WHAT version that might be…I always thought that there was ONE Christian religion, but I guess the right wing has their own version! Unfortunately, it’s not the one that goes along with the Bible!

  1. This story conjured up numerous images, thoughts, and the question “What to choose from such a flood of images and thoughts?”, and so I’m choosing the following.
    Growing up in Miss. I was attending an all-black elementary school,and with Jim Crow signage everywhere I had learned by the 1st grade that something wasn’t quite right in Jackson. It was hard to articulate or to fully comprehend the tensions, adult conversations and my parents comments about the majority group imposing such physical and mental barriers on an entire segment of Jackson, of the entire state, and the entire region.
    My thoughts were that this was just a regional nightmare that didn’t extend to the rest of the nation until I started paying more attention to the stories in Ebony Magazine in Junior High and saw a political cartoon caption that showed an image of an octopus overlaid over an outline of the US, its tentacles stretched to every corner of the map. Then, I was awakened from my complacency of thinking racism was confined to the South. Gradually, I began to further develop my ability for discernment and noticed that the disease of racism works on multiple levels, overt and hidden, and a host of social forces enabled it t o thrive, spread, and influence everyone, high and low, black and white. And later I would learn that even in South Africa there was something called Apartheid, and a town, Sharpeville, was splashed across another issue of a magazine.

    And here we are today, many having thought that the demon of racism was captured and put in a bottle, only to find out that the demon is on the loose and had kidnapped the soul of Donald J. Trump as well as David Duke, Steve Bannon, the entire FOX staff, and even corrupted the minds of such as Dr. Ben Carson and others like him who’ve been transformed into modern-day Step-n-Fetchits.

    But the thought in my mind transcending Little Rock, Emmitt Till, the 4 little girls in Birmingham, the killers Dylan Roof and Zimmerman, and all other thoughts is the “Vision” of Baha’u’llah, in which He repeatedly reminds the readers of His Tablets and Writings about the primary challenge and goal facing America and the rest of the world. That “Vision” and THE central axis of His Message is “The Oneness of Humankind”.

    As He further expatiates, and this is in my words, that this Vision is not a nice and cheerful idea which all of a sudden is fashionable, but is a Reality. A Reality that all the Messengers, including Jesus, implicitly and innately understood, but humanity wasn’t ready to hear, comprehend, and embrace it.

    UNTIL NOW! Donald, Bannon, Nigel Farrage, Roger Stone, Putin, the Iranian Muslim clerics, the Houtis in Yemen who’ve cracked down on the Baha’is there, FOX Nation, etc., may never be able to comprehend and embrace this theme, and therefore and in concert stand in the way to for this urgent Vision to be put into play to influence the affairs of humans across the globe.

  2. This story conjured up numerous images, thoughts, and the question “What to choose from such a flood of images and thoughts?”, and so I’m choosing the following.

    Growing up in Miss. I was attending an all-black elementary school,and with Jim Crow signage everywhere I had learned by the 1st grade that something wasn’t quite right in Jackson. It was hard to articulate or to fully comprehend the tensions, adult conversations and my parents comments about the majority group imposing such physical and mental barriers on an entire segment of Jackson, of the entire state, and the entire region.

    My thoughts were that this was just a regional nightmare that didn’t extend to the rest of the nation until I started paying more attention to the stories in Ebony Magazine in Junior High and saw a political cartoon caption that showed an image of an octopus overlaid over an outline of the US, its tentacles stretched to every corner of the map. Then, I was awakened from my complacency of thinking racism was confined to the South. Gradually, I began to further develop my ability for discernment and noticed that the disease of racism works on multiple levels, overt and hidden, and a host of social forces enabled it t o thrive, spread, and influence everyone, high and low, black and white. And later I would learn that even in South Africa there was something called Apartheid, and a town, Sharpeville, was splashed across another issue of a magazine.

    And here we are today, many having thought that the demon of racism was captured and put in a bottle, only to find out that the demon is on the loose and had kidnapped the soul of Donald J. Trump as well as David Duke, Steve Bannon, the entire FOX staff, and even corrupted the minds of such as Dr. Ben Carson and others like him who’ve been transformed into modern-day Step-n-Fetchits.

    But the thought in my mind transcending Little Rock, Emmitt Till, the 4 little girls in Birmingham, the killers Dylan Roof and Zimmerman, and all other thoughts, is the “Vision” of Baha’u’llah, in which He repeatedly reminds the readers of His Tablets and Writings about the primary challenge and goal facing America and the rest of the world. That “Vision”, and THE central axis of His Message, is “The Oneness of Humankind”.

    As He further expatiates, and this is in my words, that this Vision is not a nice and cheerful idea which all of a sudden is fashionable, but is a Reality. A Reality that all the Messengers, including Jesus, implicitly and innately understood, but humanity wasn’t ready to hear, comprehend, and embrace it.

    UNTIL NOW! Donald, Bannon, Nigel Farrage, Roger Stone, Putin, the Iranian Muslim clerics, the Houtis in Yemen who’ve cracked down on the Baha’is there, FOX Nation, etc., may never be able to comprehend and embrace this theme, and therefore, and in concert, stand in the way for this urgent Vision to be put into play in order to influence the affairs of humans across the globe and thus allow the world of humanity to ascend to the next plateau.

    • Aaron, You remember when I said It couldn’t get worse?

      I was wrong.

      Republican cult of victimhood. It keeps having no limits.

      BTW, just a small word for Lincoln Perry. He did what he had to do in his time. It certainly is offensive today, but in the 1930s he had little choice.

    • Judging by the recent images of ICE rounding up thousands of people for “crimes” such as getting a speeding ticket, I think it is fair to say that racism in America is being supplanted by overt Fascism…and millions of fellow Americans don’t seem to mind. Trying to establish a parallel between the image of a 6-year old African American girl bravely walking through a rabid crowd shouting insults and making threats, and protests against a religious zealot determined to destroy public education in the USA, highlights the cynicism and hypocrisy of those whose actions and rhetoric are not too dissimilar from what happened in Europe in the 1930s. That all this is being done in the name of Jesus is the epitome of immorality and inhumanity.

    • Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !mj503d:
      On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
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  3. Aaaahhhhh I understand white billionaires also feel the pain of discrimination. Thanks to Glenn McCoy we now have a better understanding how mistreated conservatives really are 🙄

  4. You really have to wonder what made people, many claiming to be Christian to behave so horribly to a little black girl. I will never understand the circumstances that created this kind of hate that mars the otherwise inspirational history of the USA. And seeing this rise up again.

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