*PBS’ “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” a six-part comprehensive look at the presence of blacks in America dating back to 1513, is up to the civil rights and black power movements of the 60s in its episode “Rise!” airing this week.
A segment on school desegregation was also featured, along with perhaps its unofficial poster child, Ruby Bridges. On her first day at the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, the then 6-year-old was met with racist whites outside the school barking, “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate,” and other chants much worse.
Largely left out of history books, however, was the fact that Bridges spent her first year at William Frantz in a classroom alone. All of the white students were kept away from her while she remained all by herself, taught by one teacher.
“She was an amazing teacher, an amazing person,” Bridges recalled in August at the TCA Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills. “I never missed a day of school, and it was because of her. She came from Boston to teach me because teachers had refused to teach black children. There were teachers who actually quit their jobs because they didn’t want to teach black kids, but she came from Boston to teach me. And I knew every day that if I just got past the crowd inside of the building, into my classroom, I was going to have a good day, and it was because of her.”
“She filled my day with things to do, continued Bridges, 59. “It wasn’t just my studies. We played games. We did art, music. I knew that I was going to learn something new every day, and I was excited about that, and so I never missed a day of school, and neither did she.”
Ruby’s first entrance into the school, flanked by federal marshals for her protection, is cemented in pop culture through Norman Rockwell’s famous painting “The Problem We All Live With.”
Below, Bridges tells us what happened when she came face to face with two of those marshals some 30 years later.
Watch Ruby Bridges’ segment from “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” below.
Part five of PBS’ “African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” (titled “Rise!”) is airing this week. Check your local listings here for repeat airdates and times.
The sixth and final episode, “A More Perfect Union,” will premiere Tuesday (Nov. 26) at 8 p.m.
Watch a preview below.