Area students heard a firsthand account of what life was like in the 1960s when Ruby Bridges told of her experiences, according to Anne Amrhein, Batesville Intermediate School and Batesville Middle School librarian.
Bridges was one of the first African American children to desegregate an American elementary school, Amrhein revealed. In November 1960, armed federal marshals escorted the 6-year-old to her first-grade classroom in New Orleans amid parent protest, name calling and physical threats. She spent that entire year alone, the only child in a classroom with her teacher, Mrs. Henry. The white parents had pulled over 500 students out of school because of her.
“Ruby spoke with students from BIS, BMS, Batesville High School and grades 3-6 from St. Louis School Jan. 14, 15 and 16. The Friday (Jan. 17) presentation for Oldenburg Academy and SLS grades 7-8 was cancelled due to inclement weather. We will try to reschedule.
“Her two-hour presentations were leveled for grade-appropriateness and designed specifically for students and staff. Each presentation was for 300 students or less and included a short video, interactive talk, slides and a question and answer period. Ruby requested no media coverage prior to or during her visit, and only students and staff were invited. This ensured a program just for the students, with no distractions,” the librarian noted.
During her talks, Amrhein said the speaker urged students to “‘give people a chance .... The most important thing is to be a good friend. No matter what they look like, what matters is what kind of friend they are.’”
She also told BHS teens, “‘You have so much on your plate today. Why would you add bullying and racism to it?’”
Amrhein said she received an e-mail from a parent after her fourth- and fifth-graders saw Bridges. It read, “Last night, the kids just talked and talked about seeing her and listening to her speak .... I haven’t seen them this excited in a long time, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your effort in creating this experience. I’ve been trying to express to them what an opportunity and honor it is to meet Ms. Bridges and have her share her story.”