As Black History Month comes to a close, I end our study of the Civil Rights movement with the movie Ruby Bridges. The struggle for equality, the marches, the sit-ins, the violence—all of this is far removed from my students’ lives. But they understand school, and they can identify with Ruby Bridges.
- Through Ruby’s family and friends, my students see the history we studied: the effects of desegregating the military, limited economic opportunity, the role of women, and the federal government enforcing the law in unwilling states.
- Disney’s Ruby Bridges is educational and uplifting—but watching that period in history come alive is not always pleasant. Ruby was taunted outside the school every single day, and the hate in those scenes is chilling. Even after seeing the movie, my students have trouble believing it really happened—until they see the famous photographs.
- Disney’s Ruby Bridges is appropriate for elementary school students. It may upset some children, but the focus is always on Ruby and what she—and today’s elementary students—can understand. Because the movie is a Disney production, teachers can show students what desegregation was really like within most schools’ media guidelines.
My kids enjoy reading books about Ruby. One of their favorites is The Story Of Ruby Bridges. Students can also read a book by Ruby herself—Through My Eyes. I also take my students to Ruby’s website: RubyBridges.com.
Note: I have a special presentation for my classes when we discuss desegregation. My mother was in the first class that was desegregated in her school in Alabama. Mom visits my class after we have learned about the civil rights movement. Mom’s presentation usually is an open question session — the kids have lots of questions to ask about the most simple details of life back then. The girls inevitably have questions about fashions of the day, which are answered by the Ruby Bridges movie we watch later.