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Civil rights icon Ruby Bridges headlines NU's MLK celebration

Ruby Bridges, the civil rights icon who in 1960 broke racial barriers when she became the first African-American to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans, will share her experiences to cap Niagara University’s annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

The free public presentation will take place at 5 p.m. on Jan. 31 in the Russell J. Salvatore Dining Commons at Niagara University. It is sponsored by NU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Bridges was just 6 years old when she was tapped by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to become the first African-American child to integrate a white Southern elementary school. After being escorted to William Frantz Elementary School on Nov. 14, 1960 by her mother and four federal marshals, Bridges spent the entire day in the principal’s office as irate white parents marched into the school to remove their children.

On Bridges’ second day, Barbara Henry, a young teacher from Boston, began to work with her in a classroom that would remain otherwise vacant for the entire year. By year’s end, crowds began to thin and, by the following year, the school had enrolled several more black students.

Bridges’ memoir, “Through My Eyes,” was released in 1999, the same year that she established the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which uses educational initiatives to promote tolerance and unity among schoolchildren.

Bridges, now Ruby Bridges Hall, is 63 and still lives in New Orleans with her husband, Malcolm Hall, and their four sons. On Jan. 8, 2001, Bridges was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton. In 2011, Bridges met with President Barack Obama, who told her, “I think it’s fair to say that if it hadn’t been for you guys, I might not be here.”

Three years later, a statue of Bridges was unveiled in the courtyard of William Frantz Elementary School.

“It is a privilege for us to be able to offer our students the opportunity to interact with trailblazing African-American activists like Ruby Bridges and Dr. Bernice King, who spoke at Niagara last year,” said Averl Harbin, NU’s director of multicultural affairs.

NU’s series of events honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began Wednesday, on his birthday, with prayers and reflection, followed on Friday with the screening of the movie, “Marshall,” about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

It will continue at 4 p.m. Thursday with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Ceremony and Reception, in the lower level of NU’s Gallagher Center. A screening of the movie “Ruby Bridges” will take place at 7 p.m. Friday in Dunleavy Hall, Room 127.

And it will conclude with Bridges’ speech on Jan. 31.

For more information, contact NU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs at 286-8510.


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