Lucille Bridges, who helped change the course of American history when she accompanied daughter Ruby Bridges to her newly desegregated school each day in the early 1960s, has died. She was 86.
Ruby Bridges announced the death of her mother on Instagram on Tuesday, and called her a “champion for change.”
“Today our country lost a hero. Brave, progressive, a champion for change. She helped alter the course of so many lives by setting me out on my path as a six year old little girl,” she wrote. “Our nation lost a Mother of the Civil Rights Movement today. And I lost my mom.”
“I love you and am grateful for you. May you Rest In Peace,” she added.
Bridges, 66, accompanied her message with a photo that showed her holding Lucille’s hand as they exited William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, which Ruby was the first Black child to integrate in 1960.
Ruby, then just 6 years old, was greeted by an angry mob hurling slurs at her, and she had to be escorted to school each day by her mom and federal marshals.
Her brave walk was immortalized in a 1963 painting by Norman Rockwell titled “The Problem We All Live With.”
It was largely thanks to Lucille that Ruby — the oldest of her five children — made history; Ruby’s father, Abon, was hesitant to send his daughter to the previously all-white William Frantz amid safety concerns, according to the National Women’s History Museum.
Lucille, however, “wanted Ruby to have the educational opportunities that her parents had been denied,” the museum said.
Ruby’s famous walk to school came six years after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, which said that state laws establishing separate public schools for Black and white students were unconstitutional.
The Bridges family suffered after Ruby helped integrate the school — Abon lost his job, and grocery stores refused to sell to Lucille, the museum said. Her share-cropping grandparents were also evicted from the farm where they’d lived for 25 years.
Speaking with PEOPLE about her new book This Is Your Time, out Tuesday, Ruby acknowledged how difficult it must have been for Lucille and Abon to explain the situation to her younger self.
"What would you say? 'You're about to go to a new school. There's going to be lots of people out there screaming and yelling at you… but you know, I'm going to be with you and you'll have a great day,'" she said. "You just couldn't do that, and so my parents didn't try to explain it to me."
Instead, Ruby said, they told her, "You're going to a new school today and you better behave."
"And that was it. And I think everything else was left to my imagination," she said. "I always say that what protected me was just having the innocence of a child. And so being a parent myself, now in hindsight, I wouldn't try to explain that to my 6-year-old."
Ruby went on to graduate from a desegregated high school, and married Malcolm Hall before starting a family and establishing the Ruby Bridges Foundation in 1999.
In her talk with PEOPLE, Ruby addressed the ongoing fight for racial justice in the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“[Protesters] are all different races, nationalities and they’re all here to move this country forward,” she said. “It’s growing pains and it’s a shame that we have to endure this kind of unrest, but I believe we’re going to be better for it and get past our racial differences because of the young people who understand what happened in the past and want to live in a better world than the one we’re living in today.”
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