Through My Eyes tells the story of the forced integration of white schools in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960. Citizens and officials alike had defied federal orders to integrate arising from the seminal 1954 court case, Brown vs. The Board of Education.
In 1956, 101 politicians in Congress (99 Democrats and 2 Republicans) issued a document called “The Southern Manifesto,” opposing the findings of the Brown decision. (Manifesto signers were from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.) The Southern Manifesto accused the Supreme Court of “clear abuse of judicial power.” It further promised to use “all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation.” A federal court, however, finally ruled that New Orleans must integrate, beginning with the first grade. Thus in 1960, Ruby Bridges started school at William Frantz Elementary. Three other black children went to McDonogh Elementary. Ruby was alone at William Frantz.
Federal Marshals were required to escort Ruby safely to and from school and to guide her through the mobs of protestors. Whites pulled their children out of the school, and Ruby became the only pupil in her class supervised by a brave teacher from the North, Barbara Henry.
Daily mobs gathered and protesters hurled threats and racial epithets. Eventually, however, some of the whites started to return to the school, though Ruby was still kept apart from them. For the second grade, Ruby was able to be part of classroom full of students, including some other blacks.
Ironically, years later, through residential segregation, Frantz Elementary again became segregated, although now it is a “black” school rather than a “white” school.
Back in 1960, Yale legal scholar Charles Black (and one of the architects of the Brown court case) posed the question: “does segregation offend against equality?” He answered:
“…if a whole race of people finds itself confined within a system which is set up and continued for the very purpose of keeping it in an inferior station, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether such a race is being treated ‘equally,’ I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers – that of laughter.”
Ruby has devoted her adult life to telling her story in the hope that inner city schools can metamorphose into the learning centers they were meant to be when whites attended them. Her bravery as a little six-year-old girl has inspired people across the country.
Evaluation: Although this wonderful compendium of text and photographs is suggested for ages 8-10, I would change that to 8 and up. My husband and I both found it riveting and powerful. Highly recommended.
Published by Scholastic Press, 1999
Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for Older Children (2000)
Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (2003)
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2001)
NCTE Orbis Pictus Award (2000)
The Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children’s Literature Honor (2000)
Flora Stieglitz Straus Award (2000)