Lucille Bridges, Mother of Activist and Anti-Segregationist Icon Ruby Bridges, Dies at 86

Ruby Bridges is widely known as the Black first-grader to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans in the sixties, but it was her mother Lucille Bridges who braved a litany of threats and racist slurs to escort her daughter. The act was then and is still today seen as a symbol of opposition to segregation. Lucille Bridges died on November 11 at the age of 86.

Civil rights activist Ruby Bridges, who climbed the stairs of William Frantz Elementary School six decades ago to become its first Black student, announced her mother’s death on Instagram late Tuesday. She included a photo showing mother and daughter holding hands as they exited the school, flanked by U.S. marshals.

Lucille Bridges endured a litany of taunts and racial slurs as she, along with federal agents, escorted her daughter to an all-white school.

“Today our country lost a hero,” Bridges captioned the photo. “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.”

If the imagery looks familiar to you, you’ve most likely seen the scene, forever immortalized by painter, Norman Rockwell. “The Problem We All Live With,” is the title of the piece and in it Ruby Bridges is seen carrying a notebook and ruler as she’s escorted by a team of federal guards.

On Nov. 14, 1960, Ruby Bridges became the first Black student to attend the school after a federal judge ordered the Orleans Parish School Board to desegregate as a result of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

Ruby was one of four Black children in the district to apply, gain acceptance, and finally attend a previously all-white school that year.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell commented Tuesday on Lucille Bridges’ death, calling her “one of the mothers of the Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans.”

“Lucille … walked Ruby, with federal marshals, past chanting and taunting white protesters and to the schoolhouse. Mother and daughter both revealed their character and courage,” Cantrell wrote in a thread of tweets.

“I think I speak for all mothers who want the best for their children when I hope for the same moral courage, bravery and love as that of Lucille Bridges. May she rest in God’s perfect peace,” she added.

In an interview several years ago, Lucille explained that before her daughter’s first day of classes, the Orleans Parish school superintendent “explained to me and my husband that … we had to pray because things were going to get really worse.”

She explained that when they “drove up right by the school, they had so many United States marshals, so many people just standing, screaming and hollering ‘Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate.'”

She said the crowd tossed eggs and tomatoes at them and even stalked them home. “And when they followed us home, they started pitching bottles and things.”

The families of many of the white students subsequently pulled their children out of the school. Lucille said she and her family lived under armed guard from federal marshals for the whole school year.

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“I wanted it better for my kids than it was for us so that my kids could go to school and learn,” Lucille explained in the interview.

May Lucille Bridges’ memory be a blessing.

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