Mom tells how daughter broke school color barrier
Arizona Republic
Jan. 23, 2008

Diana Balazs

PARADISE VALLEY - Lucille Bridges recalled telling her daughter Ruby to pray as her then 6-year-old, flanked by U.S. marshals, became the first black student in New Orleans to enter an all-white school.

"I taught her to pray and that's what happened. You just have to pray and be strong," Bridges said.

It was November 1960 and Louisiana was under a federal order to integrate.

As a young mother, Lucille Bridges said she wanted her children to have a good education, something she did not have as a sharecropper picking cotton and corn while growing up.

"I just prayed and asked God please when I got married I wanted to make it better," she said.

Ruby was the oldest of Bridges' children and rather than travel 5 or 6 miles to a segregated school, Bridges wanted her daughter to attend William Frantz Public School, which was within walking distance of their home.

Bridges, 74, said her faith in God kept her going as whites protested and refused to send their children to integrated schools with Ruby and other Black children. In fact, her daughter was the only student in her first-grade class.

Artist Norman Rockwell immortalized Ruby in a painting titled "The Problem We All Live With."

Nearly 50 years later, Lucille Bridges is grateful for how history played out and that diversity is celebrated, rather than feared.

"If I had to do this all over again, I would do it again," she said.

On Monday, Bridges received the Diversity Champion Award at the 10th annual Paradise Valley Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.

"I want to thank each and everybody for just inviting me here and each and everyone for the award. It makes me feel so great," she said.

Bridges had to evacuate New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. She now lives in Houston, but has a daughter, Mary, who lives in the Valley and is employed with Scottsdale Healthcare. Bridges also has friends at Paradise Valley United Methodist Church.The mother of 8 has 35 grandchildren.

She was asked if the world is a better place for her grandchildren. She said it is because everybody works together today.

"I believe it is much, much better," she said.

Paradise Valley's Baha'i community organizes the Paradise Valley MLK event. The event's theme this year was Face of Diversity.

Dr. Farshad Agahi, the event's master of ceremony, said the very basis upon which the Baha'i faith was founded are those things that King lived and died for, including unity of all people, peace for a whole world, and elimination of racial and all forms of prejudice.

"Because we are all one, the human race," Agahi said.

Hessam Rahimian and Puneh Ghebleh co-chaired the event.

Others honored Monday included Riley Roberts, a senior at Chaparral High School; Paradise Valley Police Chief John Wintersteen, the town's liaison for the event, and the Town Council.

The Kawambe-Omowale African Drum & Dance Theatre performed at the ceremony.