Norman Rockwell Museum sends “Happy Birthday” wishes to Ruby Bridges Hall, who turns 60 today. A member of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, Ms. Bridges Hall inspired Norman Rockwell to create his classic Civil Rights-era painting, The Problem We All Live With in 1963. The painting is one of the artist’s most significant works to be found the Museum’s permanent collection.
Born on September 8, 1954, Ms. Bridges made history when, at the age of six, she became the first African-American child to attend the all-white William Franz Public School in New Orleans. The landmark moment took place six years after the 1954 United States Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling, declaring that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional.
From her first day of classes on November 14, 1960, the young Bridges, escorted by United States Marshals, experienced some resistance from the community—an angry crowd gathered, throwing and shouting things; teachers refused to teach while a black child was present; and parents pulled their own children out of the school. For over a year, Bridges was the only child in her class, taught by a brave instructor named Barbara Henry, who hailed from Boston. As difficult as the transition to integration was, it marked a pivotal moment in America’s Civil Rights movement.
On July 15, 2011, President Barack Obama invited Ms. Bridges Hall and officials from Norman Rockwell Museum to attend a special meet and greet at the White House, and view Rockwell’s original The Problem We All Live With painting, which had been requested by the President and loaned by the Museum to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bridges’ historic walk. Standing outside of the Oval Office with Bridges in front of the iconic painting, the President remarked that “if it hadn’t been for you guys, I might not be here and we wouldn’t be looking at this together.”
Today, Bridges Hall continues to serve as a spokesperson for equality. Founded in 1999, The Ruby Bridges Foundation offers public and educational outreach to promote the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences.
Describing the 1963 painting, which has come to symbolize her place in history, Bridges Hall once remarked that, “the ‘problem’ Rockwell alludes to has been a part of our history since the first enslaved people were brought to the Americas over 400 years ago, and it is one that each of us must still confront today. For me, the painting also serves as an ever-present reminder of my purpose.”
The Problem We All Live With will be on view at Norman Rockwell Museum through October 13, 2014.
“60 Turning 60,” Huffington Post, August 9, 2014
“New Life for the School Where Ruby Bridges Made History,” Huffington Post, March 13, 2014