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The Brave Ones

Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With,” the iconic painting marking the solemn, frightening walk of then 6-year-old Ruby Bridges into the William Frantz Elementary School, making her the first black child to integrate a public school in the South, has a new home—in the West Wing of the White House. President Obama quietly had the painting hung outside the Oval Office last month to commemorate Ruby’s bravery—a simple act that signaled a monumental victory for the American Civil Rights Movement.

I’ve long been fascinated by the picture—had seen it during the course of my lifetime in many different instances, in magazines, books, Civil Rights exhibits. But a few months ago, one of my favorite television shows, Early Sunday Morning, brought the picture to life when it showed actual video footage of the day. In it, a pretty little chocolate girl in a perfectly-starched white dress, pig tails sticking out every which way, is flanked by federal marshals and walking past throngs of white anti-integrationists—cowardly adults who took time out of their busy days to jeer, threaten and scare the crap out of a first grader. It is a chilling reminder of just what it took to have this basic civil right forever etched into America’s law books: Black children deserve and have the right to study, learn, grow, and get a quality education in the same classrooms as white children.

But while our president celebrates Ruby and remembers her bravery (the picture, on loan from the Norman Rockwell Museum, will hang outside his office until October 31), I think it important to remember the two people who gave that child her heart: Lucille and Abon Bridges. See, they were the ones who made the decision to dress their brown baby in that pretty dress and send her on out the front door—to let their daughter leave the safety of their loving arms to take those measured, dangerous steps toward a better education, not only for herself, but for all African-American children.

Watch the Sunday Morning segment, replete with footage of the crazy that circled like buzzards over that little girl’s head, and you understand just how big were her parents. Honestly, I don’t know that I could have sacrificed my baby for the cause, knowing that that walk could have been her last.

So to Lucille and Abon Bridges, and their lovely daughter, Ruby, I simply say, “Thank you.”

And after you watch the Sunday Morning story for yourself—it includes an update on Ruby, the school, and a sweet reunion between Ruby and the sole white child whose father allowed her to attend the school with the black kid—consider showing it to your babies. My daughters, Mari and Lila, watched with wide eyes and closed mouths. It’s one thing to hear the story—a whole ‘nother to actually see it played out.

We must never forget. 

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