We recognize Ruby Bridges for her life’s work as a civil rights leader and activist; we find an unsightly caricature of Ruby’s historic walk through a snarling angry crowd with new education secretary Betsy DeVos depicted as Ruby. This depiction exemplifies how little understanding of race discrimination in America has been attained..
But for racial subjugation Ruby Bridges would not have needed federal marshals to escort her to attend a heretofore segregated public school in New Orleans. But for racial animus she would not have been taught in an isolated setting by Barbara Henry; whose integrity led her to offer this brave child the best education she could provide her. That teacher Barbara Henry, and her student, Ruby represents the best of the American legacy. This Bridges experience is captured too in a retrospective entitled “Lasting Impact”, which summarizes the historic effect of this heroic act.
Today, Segregation is illegal in America and no longer happens. A large amount of racism has left our society, however, not all of it has been eliminated. Hopefully one day, racism will be a subject only spoken about in history textbooks.
DeVos’ caricature of Bridges is classic to American culture. This cultural practice is summarized in the following quote from Bridget Cooke’s ” Fixing Racial Representations of African- Americans at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893″. This excerpt explains causations for the use of stereotypes to minimize the positive reality of African descent Americans. Whites created the culture of segregation in large part to counter black success, to make a myth of absolute racial difference, to stop the rising. Racial essentialism, the conception of sets of personal characteristics as biologically determined racial identities, grew in popularity among whites in tandem with the rise of the new black middle class and its increasing visibility, especially in cities.
This American legacy extends to me as well, in Los Angeles, California where I was born. I am more than a decade older than Ruby but attended integrated schools. I too had boosts from my nurturing family as well as key teachers along my way.
In John Muir Junior High School where I attended school, someone would always manage to relieve me of my bus ticket book leaving me with a miles long trudge to school. Enter my Barbara Henry, Mrs. Ackerman. Mrs Ackerman was my science teacher who was a German immigrant. She would look for me on my march to school and offered me that much appreciated ride to school.
Then she would allow me early access to her classroom. During these early morning sessions she taught me a means of recognizing my own exceptional intelligence through a mini astronomy lesson where she gave me the eagle’s view of my ability to extrapolate. I would leave John Muir and go on to graduate cum laude from high in a class of 1200. This led to a scholarship to college.
In the fifty-eight years since these mornings with Mrs. Ackerman I have shown my passion for this American legacy serving students and staff in a way that led to:
First woman of my hue to become a high school principal in the state of Colorado
Winner of the following distinctions
Milken National Educational Leader
Outstanding Individual in Schools for the state of Colorado
Educator of the Year
Election to the School Board the first of my hue and female in over 140 years
Fellowships to Harvard
More to tell. For now thank you colleagues Ruby, Barbara, Mrs Ackerman