This article, written by AACTE Dean of Residence Leslie T. Fenwick, originally appeared in the Washington Post Valerie Strauss column and is reprinted with permission.
“The Problem We All Live With” is the title of the famed Norman Rockwell painting inspired by the story of Ruby Bridges and school integration. In 1964, Rockwell created the painting for the 10th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education legal decision that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. The subject of Rockwell’s painting was inspired by Ruby Bridges, who was just 6 years old (born four months after the May 1954 Brown decision) when she integrated the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.
The rabid violence hurled at young Ruby (mainly that day by white women on the scene) is represented in Rockwell’s painting by a racial slur, the letters KKK and a splattered tomato — all appearing on the wall behind Ruby as she marches forward. Despite this terrorism, innocent Ruby walks close on the heels of the front two guards into an undeterrable future. The painting is triumphant. Ruby’s right to attend an American public school unshackled by segregation was ensured by the federal government and, that day, warranted the protection of U.S. federal marshals.