First New Orleans Black Student: Hardships Worth It

The photo of federal marshals escorting a 6-year-old black girl into an all-white New Orleans elementary school has become an emblem of the civil rights movement.

That girl was Ruby Bridges, who, in 1960, became the first black student to enroll at the William Frantz Public School, six years after the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education mandated desegregated schools.

What's not visible in that photo is the throng of protestors outside the school flinging racist insults at the little girl. Bridges said the streets were so crowded she at first thought it was a Mardi Gras parade.

"I remember climbing these stairs with the four federal marshals. People rushed in behind us, and they kept pointing at me, and they seemed really angry," Bridges told "Good Morning America."

"Everyone knew that was the school that was going to be integrated. Over 500 kids left school that day, and it was because I was there."

The protests continued. Bridges said she could handle the screaming but was truly frightened when she saw one of the segregationists holding a black doll in a coffin. Her family also suffered consequences. Her father was fired from his job, and the white owners of a grocery store told the family not to shop there anymore, Bridges writes on her Web site.

Bridges was separated from the rest of the students for the entire year and couldn't even eat in the school cafeteria.

"I wasn't allowed to eat lunch in the cafeteria, because people outside the school were threatening to poison me," she said. "I was only 6, so I had no concept of what was really going on. I never saw any kids in the whole school, but when I went to the coat closet to hang up my coat I could hear them."

Bridges said her relationship with her teacher, Mrs. Henry, a white woman from Boston, made that year tolerable. Bridges worked one-on-one with Mrs. Henry throughout the school year, and Bridges said she grew to love her teacher. She said she even picked up Mrs. Henry's Boston accent. Neither of them missed a day of school the entire year.

Bridges said she was astounded when saw a picture of her first day of school in 1960 next to a picture of President-elect Barack Obama's daughter Sasha, entering her new school in Washington, D.C., surrounded by Secret Service agents.

The photos may look similar, but the context could not be more different. At age 6, Bridges may not have realized she was a civil rights trailblazer. But nearly five decades later, she saw a little of herself in the 7-year-old black girl entering school surrounded by the Secret Service.

"It was amazing. It's like the present and the past," Bridges said. "So I really felt a huge sense of pride that the experience I went through wasn't in vain. It was an amazing feeling."

Ruby Bridges has written a children's book called "Through My Eyes."

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