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Lucille Bridges, mother of civil rights activist Ruby Bridges, dies at 86: 'Our country lost a hero'

"She was very determined, and she took education very seriously," Ruby said of her mother in an interview on Wednesday.

Lucille Bridges, mother of civil rights activist Ruby Bridges, dies at 86: 'Our country lost a hero'
Cover Image Source: Instagram/Ruby Bridges

Lucille Commadore Bridges, who in 1960 braved a gauntlet of threats and racist slurs to escort her then-6-year-old daughter to an all-white elementary school in New Orleans, died at her home in Uptown New Orleans on Tuesday at age 86. According to The New York Times, her daughter — the civil rights activist Ruby Bridges — revealed the cause of death was cancer. She also posted a tribute to her late mother on Instagram along with a photograph of Lucille holding Ruby's hand as they walked out of William Frantz Elementary School with four federal agents at their side on that historic November 14 six decades ago.

 



 

 

"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," Ruby 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." As CNN points out, a different depiction of the scene posted by the Through My Eyes author became one of the most iconic images of the Civil Rights era, thanks in part to Norman Rockwell's 1964 painting, "The Problem We All Live With."

 



 

 

"She was very determined, and she took education very seriously," Ruby said of her mother in an interview on Wednesday. "I think it was because it was something that neither her nor my father was allowed to have. And ultimately that’s what she wanted for her kids — having a better life for them." Born in Tylertown, Mississippi, on August 12, 1934, Lucille stopped attending school after the eighth grade to help her sharecropper parents in the fields. She went on to work as a housekeeper and, in 1953, married a mechanic named Abon Bridges with whom she had eight children.

 



 

 

The family relocated to New Orleans in 1956 to give their children a chance at a better education than they had had, said Ruby. "We decided to leave so that we could make it better. I wanted it better for my kids than it was for us," Lucille said in a 2016 interview. 165 Black children took a test for admission to William Frantz Elementary School in 1960, she added, of which, Ruby — who was born the same year as the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision that ended racial segregation in schools — was among only five who passed the exam.

 



 

When the Bridges' met with the school district superintendent before their daughter began classes, the superintendent warned them of what was to come. His words came true when she and her daughter arrived at the school for Ruby's first day of school, Lucille recalled, to see large numbers of federal marshals and protesters gathered. Speaking of that historic day on Wednesday, Ruby said that she could not recall her mother and father telling her anything other than that she would be going to a new school. "They didn’t try to explain to me what I was about to venture into," she said. "But I just think that’s because it would be hard for any parent to prepare their kids to walk into an environment like that, so they didn’t try."

 



 

 

According to the National Women’s History Museum, Lucille escorted her daughter to school every day for a year because of continuing protests. Despite everything, she did not harbor ill will against the protesters later in life. "All those people calling us names, you just have to charge that to their ignorance and just go on," said Lucille, who is survived by six children, numerous grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. "Be yourself, and God will bring you through."

 



 

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