All the world is waiting for you brave young girl..
As the clock ticks down to Something to Smile About on Saturday there’s also the excitement of Ferocious Dog releasing Ruby Bridges as a digital single on Monday too. I talked about the song when previewing some of the rough cut tracks from the album a while ago, briefly summarising the subject and that the song was conceived in Dan’s mind when Ruby would’ve hit the news having just turned 60 last year in September.
Dan had earmarked the song as a potential idea for a co-written piece with Maelor Hughes, but subsequently liked what he’d started too much to not have it as a Ferocious Dog track that he finished off with Ken.
The story of Ruby Bridges is one of real inspiration though. In 1960 a federal court order decreed that public schools in New Orleans, where the Bridges family lived, were forced to desegregate. Put simply, white and black children were no longer to be educated separately. Black children from kindergarten were tested to see who would be put forward to go to an integrated school – Ruby duly passed this test and the first challenge was to overcome divisions within the family.
Her father was understandably reticent – worried that the act of his daughter going to a mixed school was ‘just asking for trouble’ whilst her mother saw the opportunity Ruby could have for a better education and future prospects, and of course the bigger picture of taking a opportunity of a real tangible step forward toward racial equality. Eventually after much debate within the family it was this view that won out, and it was decided that Ruby would indeed attend an integrated school in November 1960 – a date decided by a federal judge.
There were only six black children chosen to integrate into public schools that year – two of them decided to stick with their old schools, three were assigned to McDonough school and Ruby alone wa assigned to William Frantz school. Ruby would have just turned six years old and let’s face it, a new school is a huge step for any child before you even try to get your head around the societal pressures that this particularly period of history would put upon a black girl going to a mixed school.
She was taken to school by four federal marshals – on her first day she was met with shouts and gestures – she walked into that school holding her mother’s hand escorted by federal marshals but never initially making it out of the principal’s office as outraged parents rushed their children out of the school. The next day protests continued, including parents brandishing a black doll in a coffin. This time she did get to meet her teacher, Mrs Henry, and go to a classroom.
Ruby was the only child in that classroom, she had her pick of the desks and chose one at the front and began learning the alphabet with Mrs Henry. After that second day her mother couldn’t accompany her, needing to work, so through her own faith, prayers and frankly bloodymindedness she faced the baying crowds, went to her classroom and continued to learn on her own with her teacher.
The family was targeted, her dad was fired, even her grandparents still in Mississippi were put under pressure because of the uproar that their granddaughter was supposedly causing in New Orleans. Amongst all of this disgrace though there were voices of support and help too – despite attempts at a boycott of white pupils there were seventeen who had continued to attend flying the face of the protesters. Unfortunately for Ruby none of them were in her class.
By the time Ruby started her second year there were no marshals, no protests and other black students at the school and I imagine an awkward non-acknowledgement of how things had been less than a year before. She didn’t even have the comfort of her teacher Mrs Henry who hadn’t been invited to remain at the school – but nonetheless put these difficulties like those before behind her and graduated successfully and continues even now to speak out on matters of equality.
A truly remarkable tale not just of the bravery of a six year old girl who – and that’s not to belittle her – had a degree of shielding from what was surrounding her, but also that of her family, of the federal law makers and not least of Barbara Henry too to fulfil their parts in making racial integration in the public schools of New Orleans a reality. In the Ferocious Dog song Ken takes the place of an imaginary pupil who isn’t full of the fear of the day and welcomes Ruby to her new school.
As Ken sings “I’m proud to say your story must be told” he’s quite right – it’s a fantastic story and a real historical landmark in a struggle that frankly is still being fought to see us as a wider society accept one another as equals and deserving of the same opportunities that life has to offer. So on 8th June make sure you head over to your digital music provider of choice (or several of them – let’s get it charting somewhere) and avail yourself of the single – it will whet your appetite nicely for the rest of the album which will follow on 29th June.