On November 14, 1960, Ruby Bridges made history as she was flung into the vortex of a war she hadn't started, and was too young to even comprehend. But she was certainly old enough to feel it. A pawn in the game of civil rights, and a pivotal image marking the start of the desegregation of public schools in the US, Ruby bravely walked through a crowd of raised fists and jeering faces pelting her with insults, to become the first African-American child to attend a public school in Louisiana.
The mob mentality escalated as the little 6-year-old girl was escorted by federal marshals up the steps into the school. She didn't flinch. She later said that the noise was, to her, no louder than Mardi Gras.
She spent that entire first day in the principal's office with her mother listening to the mob outside, and watched as the other mothers grabbed their children's hands and took them from the building in protest.
Singer/songwriter Lori McKenna's son did a school biography report on Ruby Bridges when he was in second grade. In a Songfacts interview with McKenna, she said, "I actually wrote that for his extra credit. It was his oral presentation of that book report." She says her son got an A.
"It's been great. That song has just been so good to me, because I actually ended up meeting Ruby Bridges, and she actually came and met my kids."
She says this song, along with "Fireflies," are songs that have provided an ultimate learning experience. "Those songs have, over the years, just sort of taught me and my kids a lot. Sort of given back to me more than you would have thought."
When Lori appeared with Faith Hill on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2006, this is one of the songs she performed. She describes the experience as "beautiful," and says that she didn't get the opportunity to talk with Oprah except on stage. McKenna told Songfacts: "I don't think Oprah came over to our wing of the stage until after the show, to say goodbye to Faith and talk to her. They were doing Katrina benefits and things together. But beforehand, I don't think the guests meet Oprah at all. And so the first time I met her was literally watching her on the stage."
Toward the end of taping that day, McKenna had another surreal experience. "I don't know if it was actually on the show, but Faith sang a gospel tune at the end of the show. I think it's called 'I Surrender All.' And Faith and Oprah, they both grew up going to, I think, Baptist churches and singing these songs as little kids. And I was sitting in the front row of the audience, and Oprah was beside me as Faith was singing this song, and people were weeping because it's so brilliant. And Oprah's holding my hand, and she's singing, and all I could think was, This is the closest you can get to God. It was such a spiritual thing, and it was just so moving, and I was literally in my own body going, Oprah's holding my hand, she's singing, Faith's singing, people are crying - how did I get here? And it was a beautiful experience, and it was a great day for me, and not just, 'Oh look at my career, look at me, I'm a songwriter, I'm on Oprah.' It was just, on all these different levels, surprisingly great. It was crazy, crazy."
Kim from Gainesville, FlI am a teacher and have taught Ruby's story for the past several years. I would love to use this in my classroom.
Shirley from National City, CaDear lori,
I am preparing a presentation about Ruby Bridges for a Black History banquet at my church.I came across your song "RUBY'S SHOES". I loved the lyrics, music,and guitar. I loved why you wrote the song. I will be listening to your music. Thank You