Brown Vs. Board of Education: Then and Now


LCCA Observer Staff, Writers

Ruby Bridges is a name most people have heard of before. She is the face most commonly associated with Brown Vs. Board of Education. Because she just wrote a new book, and because of the state of our country and the struggle many are facing with race relations, we decided to write this article. Before we go any further, we would like to share the history of the ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education. You may be surprised by all of the things you learn about this case and the people it impacted.

Brown Vs. Board of Education

There was a time in history, not that long ago, when black people and white people were not allowed to mix. Each group had their own public spaces and were expected to conduct any business there such as groceries, movies, drinking fountains, and even schools. However, one family in Topica, Kansas decided they were unhappy with the segregated schools. The schools were supposed to be separate but equal. Unfortunately, there was nothing equal about the schools in the black communities. In 1954, the Supreme Court made a ruling that the racial segregation of children was no longer allowed in public schools. Brown v. Board of education was one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement and helped establish the precedent that “separate-but-equal” education and other servers were not equal at all.

The main argument was that such segregation violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Brown claimed that schools for Black children were not equal to white schools.  The U.S. District Court in Kansas agreed that public school segregation had a “detrimental effect upon the colored children”. In May 1955, the Court made another ruling on Brown v. Board of Education which remanded future district courts and school boards to continue with desegregation.

Even after this ruling was handed down, many schools chose not to comply, and some went as far as to shut their doors to students rather than integrate them as the courts required. This is where Ruby Bridges enters the scene.

Who was Ruby Bridges

Ruby Nell Bridges Hall is an American Hero. She was the first African American child to desegregate William Frantz Elementary School. At six years old, Ruby’s bravery walks to school every day not knowing why there are no kids at her school. On the first day in her new school, Ruby and her mother arrived with four U.S. marshals for protection. Ruby saw a massive crowd of people shouting, throwing things, and carrying signs as she approached the school. Ruby thought it was Mardi Gras According to 

Her Life After Elementary School

After Ruby Bridges graduated from a desegregated high school, Ruby Bridges did not attend college. She had earned an honorary degree for her work as a civil rights activist. Bridges’ honorary degrees were awarded from Connecticut College and Tulane university. She married Malcolm Hall and had four sons. She worked as a travel agent for 15 years and later became a full-time parent. She is now a chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation which she formed in 1999 to promote, “the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences”. The Ruby Bridges Foundation was established in New Orleans in 1999. Ruby Bridges created the “Ruby Bridges Foundation” to help fight racism.  

Interview w/ Lawson & Cook

Ms. Lawson and Mrs. Cook from Lake Charles Charter Academy. Ms. Lawson was born only one year apart from Ruby Bridges and also grew up here in the south. Their stories are very much the same as they both encountered serious opposition as they attended all-white schools.

The writers of the LCCA Observer were fortunate enough to sit down with our very own Ms. Cook (middle school counselor) and Mrs. Lawson (upstairs administrative assistant) and speak with them about their experiences going to school.

Ms. Cook: As an elementary school student, schools were already desegregated and so I wasn’t a part of that process. School for me, our areas were zoned, so wherever you lived that’s where you went to school. But the zones were much different back then. Everyone went to the school that was in their neighborhood as opposed to now, where people have choices where they want to attend school. Students can attend charter schools or get out-of-area permits. The schools that I attended were all black from the time I was in elementary school until I was in the 5th grade. These schools included all of my neighbors and everyone who lived in my neighborhood. When I became a 5th grader, I tested for the gifted program which allowed me to take a bus to the South side of town and attend school there. At that time, I became integrated with other races at school.

LCCA Observer: You went to school with the people that you lived with and you lived with the people that were like you right?

Mrs. Cook: Right, and so the neighborhoods that I lived in were all black neighborhoods and so that’s just the zoning back in the 70s, which is when I began my school years: kindergarten, first, and the second-grade years-the area was zoned and where you lived according to your economic…or what you could afford let me say it that way-where you could afford to live was predominantly black for me and so that that meant that I went to predominantly black school because of that.

LCCA Observer: This question is for both Mrs. Lawson and Mrs. Cook, do you remember hearing about Ruby bridges when you were young?

Lawson: Not until maybe in the early 80s. The reason being, that I grew up in a rural area countryside and so there weren’t a whole lot of um entities…or television communication or media during my time. That would be one of the reasons that I did not know of her or her plans to attend a white school. I grew up in two rural areas as I said, and they were all black schools back-starting from 1959 up to 1968, which were my elementary school years. My school was Then, back in 1968, integration started and we had a choice as to if we wanted to go or not.

Mrs. Cook: There was some time when even though the law was passed many students and their parents decided to stay at their own schools for personal reasons.

Ms. Lawson: Even though the law had passed at that time where all schools were going to be joined together, there was a choice. In the area that I lived in, the law was that schools had to mingle together. I did not attend an integrated school, I attended a Catholic school where the student population was all black. That was my parent’s choice back then. I was not ready to change schools and so my parents supported my decision. I encouraged my parents to enroll me in the Catholic school in Grand Coteau, Louisiana where I was not integrated yet. As for my siblings, when they started high school, they did attend an integrated high school.

LCCA Observer:  Did you hear about the violence that other students might have been facing? If so, were you afraid or nervous, or apprehensive about the change?

Lawson: I guess more uncomfortable. I do not have a spirit of fear. I was very concerned about what could happen, and as I said, during my time, I knew that we had been going through a lot of hardships between the races and my parents were trying to shield us or protect us from that kind of situation. They just wanted us to feel safe.

Cook: I did want to add that, to kind of follow up with Miss Lawson. I wasn’t a part of segregation-I came afterward-and so in our school systems, the textbooks and what the schools utilized didn’t include information like this in the books so we had no idea about racial relations or everything that was going on in the world. We were taught what was in our textbooks at the time…Ruby Bridges was not mentioned, and so unless someone told me about it or I saw it on the news or somewhere else that would be the only way that I would know.

LCCA Observer: So, you didn’t know that a child was verbally attacked when she tried to attend school? That they, grown men and women-were screaming at her, a child? Because that would have made me, a young child no matter what race I was, very afraid.

Lawson: And she was really afraid, you know, even though she went through this, faced this hardship, this fear pushed her to want to prove to herself and her community that she belonged there, that was what she got from her parents…their strength.

Cook: Yes! Her parents! I applaud them for supporting her and encouraging her.

LCCA Observer: Do you think they knew? Do you think they even realized that it really was bigger than her? That it wasn’t-even though it was about her in the beginning it was more than just her like she kind of represented all black students everywhere?

Cook: I don’t think they probably realized how big it was and the influence it would have on society later. It is supportive parents like Ruby’s is what I saw at the time. They knew it was the right thing for Ruby, for their family.

LCCA Observer: Yeah, we watched the video the other day and I’m pretty knowledgeable-but I didn’t realize that from the time of Brown versus the Board of Education really didn’t even start with Ruby Bridges… right? It had to do with the Brown family, and when the ruling first passed, it took so long for them to enforce the case that the young lady never even got to attend the school because she’d already moved on to another school. Then once that happened, they closed the public schools down just so they wouldn’t have to actually integrate the students, so unless you had a lot of money and you could go to a private school, black students weren’t getting any education for almost five years.

MS. Lawson: yeah,  5-10 years

Mrs. Cook: So, then again once it was finally passed as you said, she was much older, but so many other children benefited from her struggle.

LCCA Observer: Yes, the fact that even our children today benefited from us the fact that these girls were willing to stand up and do what is right, and that’s awesome! yeah and

Ms. Myers: This is one of the reasons why well we’re having this interview. I was cleaning my house and I was listening to NPR. I heard an interview with Ruby Bridges and I thought she’s got a new book out and I think that now would be a really good time for my young reporters to learn about these things so that we can share the information with their peers.

Cook: I think now is a really important time to talk about this. Everybody has a platform now-you know, everybody has an opportunity to just share their knowledge and their opinion, and to take a stance. This is because of social media and the internet, information is out there so, now is a great time to build better race relations.

Ms. Myers: Yes! Especially being in the South where we are and going through all of the political changes that have taken social issues and turned them into political talking points, have created a divide. I think there’s more of a divide recently than there was ten years ago or even 15 years ago. I think now is a really important time for us to talk about these things. You can’t ignore them. Yes, they’re uncomfortable. They make everybody uncomfortable. For example, being a white teacher and having to teach about segregation and having to teach about slavery was really hard for me to teach in a way that I did not feel guilty. But things that make us uncomfortable are the things that help us grow together.

Mrs. Cook: That’s right, that’s right! And the conversations, as hard as they are, even at home or at school, are different aspects of serious problems, and these students need to know so they can be responsible for making changes and doing better as they grow up.

LCCA Observer: Okay, so our last question is, Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He said, that is really important to remember the past, so we don’t make those same mistakes. If you were going to say something to our students today about the past what do you think is one thing that they should know?

Ms. Lawson: Equality very is an empowerment tool, and so know that situations will always be for the rest of our lives, People will have different feelings about who they are and what they’re about. What you need to remember is,  just stand up knowing who you are. When you are advised to talk, do so with your family’s qualities or your integrity. Those are the values, the standards you are standing on regardless of how it unfolds, Just remember, you will be OK you you will end up being happy. You will be happy, you’ll be content because you know that and you’re displaying that know your truth and good choices regardless of what situation.

Myers: Ms. Cook, is there anything you think if you had it to let our students know? Anything more about the past you would want them to know?

Ms. Cook: In order to keep mistakes from the past you have to know the past that means do your research read ask questions of your grandparents of your great grandparents that they’re alive and do your research you know learn as much information as you can about The Pioneers that paved the way for us today and the things that they had to go through the sacrifices they had to make you will appreciate life now much more if you know the hardships that people had to go through to get where we are today life was never easy but we lived to survive and we here now with college degrees and jobs and trying to find equality you know we’re always trying to have an equal platform and in order to get there you have to be educated education is the most important thing you will ever strive for in your life  because without it you gonna make your struggle even harder but with it you have the empowerment to do any and everything that you wanna do in life patient to educate yourselves

LCCA Observer: if you guys have any questions before we end our our interview anything you wanna ask them i get him i get emotional because i think it’s i think it’s really really neat that we have the opportunity to under to really band what people went through before us before you because the sacrifices that were made included losing lives people people died and struggled and suffered and fought and we’re brave so that you guys could be here and I always tell my students for education is the one thing that nobody can take away from you no matter what it’s yours once you have it it’s yours and people can take anything else they can take your house they can take your car they can take your freedom they cannot take your education and so when we have this education you’ll never be a statistic because that’s my that is probably one of my biggest fears is watching my students become statistics to become something that part of society said they knew they were always going to be when I see so much more I see how great you are

Ms. Lawson: I like that. I think education is just powerful and we all need education. There are circumstances in some families-usually financial- where school is not available to you. You still need to continue to strive to keep raising yourself up.  Like Ms. Myers and Mrs. Cook have said, education is very important and is something that can not be taken away from you, but still, in the lives, we live in today there are still hardships and finance so just in case you can’t further your education because of finances, just use the what you have and keep building yourself up on that. It is just as important as the knowledge you gain in college.

Ms. Myers: Not all education is going to come within the walls of school… right?  You get your education through life experiences. You get your education through things like today for example, when we speak to each other and learn about each other’s experiences when we talk to people who have lived through different things, and we learned from them. We should always be lifelong learners and educate ourselves because like I said, everything we take in is ours forever.

Mrs. Cook: Yeah, that’s definitely part of my mission statement outside of my door, trying to encourage students to be lifelong learners. That means whether you are getting a college degree, going into the military, trade school, or talking or your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents…if they are still with you, it doesn’t matter. Always empower yourself with education with knowledge on some type of level.

In Conclusion

The ruling of Brown v. Board of Education and the actions of the incredibly brave Ruby Bridges both had a massive impact on not only the education system but society as a whole. While we have seen improvements over the years in building better race relations and improving the lives of all citizens,  there are still improvements needed to be made. Ruby’s brave entrance into the public school system created a major increase in awareness of the inequality still faced in the black community. We are hopeful that as long as we remind ourselves what our goal is, we will always keep making strides to make the world a better place for future generations.