Ruby Bridges' Through My Eyes
Book review by Monica Friedman
The Award Winning Memoir of the Young Civil Rights Activist Ruby Bridges
To help young children understand the reality and the terror that was public school integration in the south, the grown Ruby Bridges recounts her experiences as the first black child to attend William Frantz Public School in New Orleans. The year was 1960, Ruby was seven years old, and, as one of the few children who had passed the very rigorous test designed to keep black children from attending white schools, she is the only person of color to brave the gantlet of abuse in her neighborhood. Review continues.
Book Review: Through My Eyes
The book begins with a preface explaining the civil rights movement as it pertained to education, explaining Brown vs. The Board of Education and the Little Rock Nine. Bridges also includes recollections of her early childhood, especially her happy memories of her grandparents’ sharecropper farm and her kindergarten year at the all-black school. Copious sepia-toned photographs and quotes from newspapers, novelists, and those who witnessed the conflict firsthand also flesh out Through My Eyes.
But it is Bridges’ own words that bring history alive. She describes “barricades and people shouting and policemen everywhere,” as she arrives for her first day of school. She remembers that the crowd “yelled and threw things” but that she couldn’t see any faces, because she wasn’t very tall. She recalls that the school
looked bigger and nicer than my old school. When we climbed the high steps to the front door, there were policemen in uniforms at the top. The policemen and the crowd behind us made me think this was an important place.
I must be in college, I thought to myself.
Racism is apparent everywhere. The principal makes her distaste for Ruby, her mother, and the very concept of integration clear. When it becomes certain that Ruby is there to stay, white parents rush in to pull their children from the school. Even when some children are allowed to return, Ruby is still segregated, kept alone in a classroom, forbidden to eat in the cafeteria with the other children or play with them in the schoolyard.
Her only companion is Barbara Henry, a young and idealistic teacher who is pleased to be part of integration and only wishes she could do more for young Ruby. “I would always greet her with a compliment about how nicely she was dressed to help make her feel special, as she was, and to make her feel more welcome and comfortable.” She greeted Ruby with a hug every morning, sat beside her, rather than in front of the classroom when she taught, and even began to join her for lunch when she understood Ruby’s loneliness.
Gradually, the protests die down. Such luminaries as John Steinbeck and Eleanor Roosevelt express their support for Ruby’s situation. A psychologist named Robert Coles writes about her resiliency. In the spring, enough white children of Ruby’s age return to the school that she has playmates, although they are still taught separately. By the time she starts second grade, Ruby’s school is fully integrated.
Through My Eyes is a lovely and eye-opening illustration of the struggles that children in America went through to rectify the mistakes of the past, and the degree to which a determined person, young or old, has the power to change the world.
Through My Eyes won the 2000 Jane Addams Peace Association Children's Book Award.
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