You do know who Ruby Bridges is right? I hope you do. But just in case you don’t, Ruby was a young girl who became famous for being smart- essentially. She also happened to be black in 1960s Louisiana. When Ruby was in kindergarten, she, along with all the other students in her all black school (which happened to be an extremely long way away from home) were given a test. Passing the test meant that you were smart enough to go to the all white school (which was a mere block or two from home). Ruby being smart, was of course accepted into the white school. But being smart enough to go to the all white school was just the first prerequisite. Ruby’s parents would also need to agree that she could integrate (go to the all white school). Even after they agreed, going to the all white school would not be easy. She was escorted everyday to and from by men in the National Guard and she spent the entirety of her first grade year as the only student in her classroom. (Integration may have come to the Louisiana school, but it had not reached all the way to its classrooms.) Even if the school had opted to include Ruby in classes with white people, little to no integration would transpire. A great majority of the white students had been pulled from the school by way of protesting integration or avoiding the protesting and protesters. Ruby Bridges is a national hero because she went to school in spite of the hate and animosity shown her when she integrated or infiltrated the all white school.
The little girl in the picture is not Ruby Bridges, though. That little girl is Cynthia Montague and she is my cousin. Like me (and almost every other family member on my mom’s side of this gnarled and twisted tree of mine), Cynthia grew up in Stafford. Unlike me, Cynthia, my Nana and anyone else living prior to or during this time didn’t get to go to school in Stafford.
They were bused to another school in another town/city. Another county. I moan and complain if I have to go to Kroger- which is slightly more across the street- instead of the Martins; which is across the street but a much shorter distance. And these kids; if they wanted an education had to go into the next city or town.
My Nana once said, “they [she and her friends] didn’t understand why they couldn’t go to the school that was closer to their homes or why they had to go to school way out in Fredericksburg [when they were young children]”. I feel this sentiment was probably echoed throughout the black community of Stafford County.
And then, along came Cynthia. A little girl who was doing great things- though she may not have known it at the time. I am not sure if Cynthia was selected because of her intelligence- like Ruby or if there was some other selection process was involved. What I do know is this- Cynthia and her sister were the first black kids to integrate into Stafford County Schools.
Why was I not taught this as a kid in Stafford? I am embarrassed to say that I never knew this growing up; I was never taught this in school; my parents never mentioned it.It wasn’t until I attended the Discussion Panel (See The Other Side Of the Door to find out what that’s all about) that I learned this awesome piece of family history. I didn’t even realize or understand the enormity of what I didn’t know. I am not sure what the stigma is of teaching people about the awesome things black people have done, but I vow to overcome it. I am going to make sure my own children know the greatness that they come from. I am more encouraged now than ever to keep on digging through the records, hanging out in dusty basements and begging the living to share the stories of life before me. There is purpose in what I am doing.
As I have delved deeper and deeper into genealogy and family history, I have had the great privilege of discovering several hidden gems hanging out in my tree. Some of those gems only precious to me and others honored by many. Cynthia is one gem that should be honored and celebrated by many. I am proud to come from the kind of stock that produced her.
Have you discovered an unsung hero in your family tree or possibly in a tree you have been working on? I would love to hear all about your discoveries- how did you react when you made them? I was in awe and still am. I hope in the very near future, I will be able to sit down and talk with her and interview her for the family to come long past the time she lived this life.
So, leave me a comment and a like and as always, please share with your friends and family! Thank you so much for visiting! Come back soon, ya hear?
For more information on Ruby Bridges, please visit http://www.ducksters.com/history/civil_rights/ruby_bridges.php