Ruby Bridges Speaks at Moody Methodist Juneteenth Event

 


  
As Americans celebrated Juneteenth last weekend – the first time ever as a federal holiday – members of Moody Memorial First United Methodist Church in Galveston had a special opportunity to hear from a key leader in the battle for civil rights and equality.  
 
Ruby Bridges, 66, spoke at the church’s annual Hearn Lectureship, held June 18 in conjunction with Juneteenth celebrations.  At age six, Bridges was the first Black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School when schools in New Orleans were desegregated in 1960. Many Americans know her as the subject of a 1964 painting, "The Problem We All Live With," by Norman Rockwell.
 
“It was a marvelous event,” said the Rev. Bert Bagley, Executive Director of the church’s Permanent Endowment Fund of Moody Methodist and a member of the Perkins Executive Board. The lecture, funded by the Endowment, is named for the late Bishop J. Woodrow Hearn; speakers in previous years have included Perkins Dean Craig Hill, Bishop Scott Jones, the Rev. Stan Copeland and Bishop Will Willimon.
 
 
At Bridges’ request, the lecture was delivered before an audience that included 150 children, ages 4-17. 
 
 “The children were as quiet as could be as the story unfolded and then asked questions which Ruby answered with great poise,” Bagley said. “We think of Ruby as that brave 6-year-old girl.  Instead, she told us that she was just a little girl going to school.  It was an amazing moment in time for all of us privileged to be present.”
 
Bridges said that, at the time, she didn’t realize the magnitude of what was happening. Her parents told her she would be attending a new school; she didn’t realize she would be the first and only Black child in the school. As she followed “the big tall white men” – the federal marshals accompanying her – through the crowd of parents gathered outside the school, she thought she had stumbled upon a Mardi Gras parade. 
 
Bridges told the audience attending class one-on-one with the only teacher willing to teach her and eating lunch alone. Almost all of the white families pulled their children out of the school rather than allow them to attend an integrated school. The four remaining children who did attend were kept separate from Bridges and were not allowed to play with her. 
 
During Bridges’ talk, a 5-year-old girl stepped up to the microphone and asked, “Ms. Bridges, how were you so brave?” 
 
“How was I so brave?” she replied. “Were you brave walking up to the microphone? I wasn’t scared but I was brave. That’s how I felt.”
 
The Hearn lecture was spearheaded by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Alicia Besser, by way of an informal connection with a fellow Galveston resident, Sam Collins, who serves on Ruby Bridges’ board. 
 
Collins was also the driving force behind a new 5,000-square-foot mural in downtown Galveston that marks the spot where, on June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which demanded “absolute equality” among enslaved people and slaveholders. While the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued in 1862, the news didn’t reach Texas until the arrival of the Union Army in 1865. The mural located near the location where Union soldiers were headquartered at the corner of Strand and 22nd streets. Public artist Reginald C. Adams and his creative team painted the mural, which is inscribed with the words "Absolute Equality." 
 
On June 17, 2021, President Biden named Juneteenth a federal holiday.
 
“Human beings are capable of immeasurable evil but also boundless good,” said Dean Hill in a statement on the announcement. “The creation of Juneteenth National Independence Day is an occasion to reflect on both capacities, which are part of our history, and both potentialities, which are part of our nature. We rejoice in the emancipation but grieve that it should ever have been necessary.”