One of America's greatest strengths is its diversity. It seems so natural, and so much a part of the national fabric that it is all too easy to forget that it hasn't always been so.In Through My Eyes Ruby Bridges tells her own story about being the first African-American student to attend what had previously been an all-white school in New Orleans. Ruby knew nothing about racism at the time because she was a child, and children have too much natural intelligence to be bigots. They learn it from the bad examples of adults.Little Ruby, the first-grader, did not understand why U. S. Marshals escorted her to school and stayed with her everyday. She didn't understand why people crowded outside the school and yelled mean, hateful, scary things. She didn't understand why she was the only student in her classroom. She didn't understand why a white woman screamed at her every morning that she was going to poison the little girl. To be perfectly honest, I don't understand either. She was just a little girl.Eventually, near the end of the school year Ruby figured out that all the fuss was because she was African-American when a little white boy told her that his mother wouldn't let him play with her because she was black (he used another term that Ruby quotes in the book, but I'm not going to use because it isn't very nice).Sending Ruby to a predominantly white school was very hard on her and her family in many ways. Her father lost his job, and the local grocery store asked her family to stay away because they were part of school integration.But Ruby doesn't just dwell on the negative. She also tells about the generosity of people from all over the country who sent her and her family supportive letters, money, clothes, toys, and books after learning about her through television and newspapers. One of the letters Ruby's mother cherished the most was from former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt (sadly, the letter from Mrs. Roosevelt was lost along with many of the family's possessions during Hurricane Betsy). The author John Steinbeck even wrote about one of the protests he witnessed outside her school. He left his dog Charley and his truck several blocks away and took a cab to the school because he didn't want his dog to get hurt or his truck to be damaged. Those protests could be very dangerous.Mrs. Henry, Ruby's teacher that year, kept her teaching assignment a secret from her friends because she and her husband weren't sure who they could trust.
Mrs. Henry was a dedicated and highly principled teacher who stood up for her special student on many occasions. One time the unsympathetic principal wanted to lower Ruby's grades claiming that they were unfairly high because the girl had so much individual attention, but Mrs. Henry fought her on it.Ruby also tells about a Methodist Minister who believed strongly in integration, and walked his own little girl to school everyday. The crowds of protesters threatened him as well. It's interesting that the protesters hated anyone who disagreed with them, regardless of their race. At one level their bigotry was sort of color-blind.The protesters also sang. One of their favorite songs was "Battle Hymn of the Republic," but they changed the words of the chorus to "Glory, glory, segregation! The South will rise again!" I don't know if these protesters were even aware that this vigorous hymn had rallied the Northern forces during the Civil War, but I am sure that the perverse irony was lost on them.The book is filled with photos that are beautiful, dramatic, and often disturbing. I was particularly horrified by one photograph of protesters holding up a small casket with a black doll in it. This incident really frightened Ruby too.While reading this book I often thought about the protesters. Did they feel strong and powerful as they gathered in mobs and tried to terrorize a little girl in the first grade? How pathetic.Through My Eyes is a brief account of courage and sacrifice against irrust as ALL Americans, regardless of the color of their skin, are richer because of the courageous and tireless efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and others who struggled in the Civil Rights Movement, our society is also richer because students can all learn together, regardless of race. Unlike the cowardly protesters who tried to intimidate her, Little Ruby showed true courage.