Lucille Bridges, Mother Of Iconic Civil Rights Activist Ruby, Dies At 86

by Leah Groth
Originally Published: 
Spring Branch ISD/Youtube

Lucille Bridges, the mother of legendary civil rights icon Ruby Bridges, died at the age of 86 this week

When Kamala Harris made history by becoming the first woman elected as Vice President — and also the first Black person and first South Asian person — in the United States, a Norman Rockwell painting depicting a young girl walking amongst soldiers starting making a reappearance on social media. In some of the images, Harris was superimposed on the painting walking alongside the child. In others, it was used as a metaphor to show the progress that women have made over time. For those who don’t know the history behind the gorgeous work of art, the girl in the painting is Ruby Bridges, a civil rights activist who at the age of six, walked past a crowd of racists and into an all-white school in New Orleans, becoming the first Black student to attend. This week, Lucille Bridges, the mother behind the history-making gesture, died at the age of 86.

Ruby Bridges, 66, announced her mother’s death on Tuesday evening via Instagram.

“Today our country lost a hero. Brave, progressive, a champion for change. She helped alter the course of so many lives by setting me out on my path as a six year old little girl. Our nation lost a Mother of the Civil Rights Movement today. And I lost my mom. I love you and am grateful for you. May you Rest In Peace,” she wrote.

The AP chronicled the history of the late Bridges’ life. She gave birth to her daughter in Tylertown, Mississippi, in 1954 — the same year racial segregation technically ended in school with the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

Ruby credited her parents for her role as a civil rights icon, as they were behind the decision to send her to a previously all-white school. “My parents are the real heroes,” she was quoted as saying by the U.S. Marshals Service. “They (sent me to that public school) because they felt it was the right thing to do.”

“The Problem We All Live With” ended up being one of Rockwell’s most famous works of art, depicting young Ruby being protected by U.S. Marshals as she walked into the school.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell made a statement Tuesday night honoring Lucille.

“Today we mourn the loss of one of the mothers of the Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans with the passing of Lucille Bridges — mother of five, including Ruby Bridges. May she rest in God’s perfect peace,” she said.

Cantrell also explained that while Ruby’s father, Abon, was hesitant to send his daughter to the all-white William Frantz Elementary School, but it was his wife who insisted. According to the National Women’s History Museum, Lucille Bridges was determined for her daughter to receive the education she wasn’t able to and even walked her to school every day.

“Lucille’s strength was unbounded during this period,” Cantrell continued. “Lucille insisted, seeing the action as an opportunity to help all Black children, and walked Ruby, with federal marshals, past chanting and taunting white protesters and to the schoolhouse. Mother and daughter both revealed their character and courage.”

The New Orleans School District also made a moving statement. “On behalf of New Orleans Public Schools, we extend our sincerest condolences to Ruby Bridges on the passing of her mother, Lucille Bridges,” they wrote. “We can only imagine the strength, courage, and determination that it took for Ms. Lucille Bridges to allow her daughter to endure the taunts and other expressions of hatred she experienced, as she sought to be the first black child to desegregate William Frantz Elementary School. As we approach the 60th Anniversary of that fateful day, we thank both Lucille and Ruby Bridges for opening the door so that others could follow and have more opportunities that would have not been possible. As we have conversations and events this week around the desegregation of schools, I ask that we also keep Ruby Bridges in our thoughts and prayers.”

A compilation image of Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, and Kamala Harris went viral this week. “Rosa sat, so Ruby could walk, so Kamala could run,” it was captioned.

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