Midweek Musing 9/21/2022
One of the things going on in our nation today is a battle over what books should or should not be in our schools and school libraries. While I have personal opinions on this topic those opinions are not the theme of this musing.
I will, however, say professionally that I have kept up with the books and topics that are at the center of this most recent round of attacks on literature. I want to stay informed in case a parent asks me a question. Fortunately, they have not chosen to ask me such questions; instead, they are much more concerned about the lunch menu and buses… over which I have absolutely no control!
I do not need to mention some of the topics and some of the titles that are controversial. Most of them you already know and would not be surprised. Many of them have been topics of controversy before and I am sure they will remain so well into the future.
However, a few of the more recent books and concerns being brought to school boards have surprised me. For example, The Diary of Anne Frank, titles by Dr. Seuss, and several children’s books about Ruby Bridges.
The Ruby Bridges books were particularly surprising to me and led me to do some study on this young girl who helped integrate schools in not only Arkansas but the United States.
If you don’t remember Ruby Bridges she was an African American six-year-old girl who was selected to integrate an elementary school in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was met with curses and threats by those opposing integration, and for an entire year she and her teacher were the only people in her classroom. (Her teacher also received threats and was completely excluded by the faculty and staff of the school.) Images and accounts of Ruby Bridges’s experience are hard to take in. What this little girl experienced for an entire year as she was taken back and forth to school by federal deputies was reprehensible.
Frankly, it’s a part of history that is indeed hard to look at. Those who do not want children to study this are afraid kids may ask hard questions about America and her past. And the reality is there are some moments in our nation’s history that we certainly should not be proud of.
The truth is that both then as now there are racist, bigoted individuals who sometimes act in horrifying ways. But an even more powerful takeaway for me is that inside these hard stories we always find courageous individuals and groups who act with love and grace, even in the face of evil.
This power to overcome evil and replace it with love is I believe the reason for sharing such stories. In fact, the moral of many of these stories is that often it is when things seem the darkest that it is easy to see the light of Christ at work.
One such example within the story of Ruby Bridges comes from Ruby herself, and it is a story I never heard until last week when I was doing my research and read an article by Bruce McCluggage, who based his article in part on the children's book by Robert Coles (illustrated by George Ford) entitled The Story of Ruby Bridges.
In part he writes the following -
Ruby Bridges was just six years old when in 1960 she stood before a judge who ordered her to go to first grade in the William Franz Elementary School. No black child had ever before stepped foot upon the hallowed white ground.
Every Sunday, her family went to church. Ruby's mother wanted all her children to start feeling close to God's Spirit from the very start. Now, the whole family was praying for strength and courage to get through any 'trouble' as a result of the desegregation ruling. Both her parents were proud that their little daughter had been chosen for such an important event in American history. So, they prayed that she would be a good girl and hold her head up high. They also prayed that Ruby would be a credit to her own people as well as a credit to all the American people.
Federal marshals had to be ordered in by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to escort Ruby into the school building. The New Orleans police as well as the Louisiana police refused their services. Large crowds of angry white people gathered every day outside the school grounds to hurl their epitaphs and threats of physical violence toward Ruby. The marshals carried guns just in case and often threatened arrests to keep the marching crowds back. Ruby would always hurry through them all without saying a word.
Once inside, she took her seat at her desk among a room full of other desks all vacant. None of the white parents would send their children to the school. They all participated in the protest, whether yelling and carrying signs or in the chilly, silent protest of empty desks. No one to learn with. No one to eat with. No one to play with. No one.
However, Ruby had a teacher required by law, Mrs. Henry. She was always dumbfounded by Ruby's politeness and the effectual smile on her face. Wondering how Ruby could keep on going with such a relaxed and hopeful spirit, the teacher speculated when Ruby would wear down or even quit coming altogether. But Ruby said she was doing fine. And so Ruby learned how to read and how to write in an empty classroom in an empty building.
Then one morning, Mrs. Henry noticed Ruby walking toward the school as usual but then she stopped, turned toward the angry, howling crowd and seemed to even be trying to speak to them. The crowd seemed ready to pounce on her while the marshals tried in vain to keep Ruby moving. Finally, she stopped talking and walked into the school.
Mrs. Henry immediately asked Ruby what happened; why did she try and talk to such a belligerent crowd. Ruby irritatingly responded that she didn't stop to talk with them.
"Ruby, I saw you talking," Mrs. Henry pressed. "I saw your lips moving."
"I wasn't talking," said Ruby. "I was praying...I was praying for them."
Evidently, Ruby had stopped every morning a few blocks away from the school to pray for the people who hated her. But on this morning she had forgotten until she was already in the middle of the malevolent mob.
After school that day, Ruby bolted through the crowd as usual and headed for home with her two companion federal marshals. After a few blocks and with the crowds behind her, she paused as she usually did to say the prayer that she had repeated not once but twice a day -- before and after school:
Please God, try to forgive these people. Because even if they say those bad things, They don't know what they're doing. So You could forgive them, Just like You did those folks a long time ago When they said terrible things about You.
But I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:44
And a child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Have a great week.