After Charlottesville, I thought again about when I heard Ruby Bridges give not just a great speech but what may have been the best speech I’ve ever heard in person by anyone.
Ruby Bridges is a credible witness to speak about good and evil. She had to be escorted by U.S. Marshalls to her school because of the evil of racism, expressed in white supremacism. But later her own son was murdered by another African American. That’s the background of her life truth: “Good and evil looks exactly like you and me.” She also experienced deep support and love from a white teacher, after hearing unrepeatable slurs on her way up the sidewalk to the school.
Here is an excerpt from some of her writing that shows one of the most memorable moments about her speech for me: that good and evil looks exactly like you and me, that it cannot be reduced to a particular political party view, race, or even hate group.
“The most important lesson that I took away that year [at William Frantz School] was that Mrs. Henry, who came from Boston to teach me, looked exactly like those people (hate-faced, white supremacists). I didn’t know what to expect from her. But she said, ‘Come in and take a seat. I’m your teacher.’ And she showed me her heart. She became my best friend. And I believe to this very day in my heart that she was put there for me. And that shaped me into who I am today. I am not a prejudiced person. The lesson I learned in first grade is the very lesson that Dr. King tried to teach all of us: ‘You should never judge a person by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’
Then I went into the schools to try to actually share my story. Everyone was familiar with the Norman Rockwell painting. They knew of that painting, but they did not know who that person was, even if that person was a real person, or what that person’s name was. It is very, very important that we share those stories. That is our shared history. It’s the Good and Evil that is in the world. I have to remind you, Good and Evil comes in all shades and colors. Good and Evil looks exactly like you and me. You see, I also know that first hand because I lost my oldest son. He was murdered. He was murdered by Evil. An Evil that stood over him and shot him eleven times looked just like me. That is what we need to be concerned about. It has absolutely got nothing to do with the color of our skin. So we need to know our history… So that we make sure that those kids–the next generation–that they want to strive to be exactly like these people (the humanitarians of Remember Them: Champions for Humanity).”
As Ruby Bridges went into schools to share her own story to students, she has remarked on the children’s acute interest in faith:
“When I speak to kids in schools across the country I’m amazed that they really want to know about this thing called faith and the belief in God. I believe, and that is going back to my faith, that good will always prevail. That love will conquer hate. I think I see more than most people because I’m in the schools across the country, talking to the children and that is the children’s faith.”
Malcolm Gladwell has a podcast that sheds new light on the period of school integration, and I haven’t heard this angle before. You probably haven’t either. Listen.