The White Bow

I go to William Frantz Elementary school. Or I did. Before Ruby Bridges came.


My name is Dorothy White amd I’m 6 years old. And I’m white. But Ruby is brown. Which seems to be very important to the grown ups these days. I wonder if I was brown, if my surname would be Brown?


I don’t really like school. You have to write a lot. And work hard. I’d rather play the whole day. But it looks like Ruby likes school very much. Because she keeps going even when the posters shout at her and tell her they don’t want her to go to school. I learned the word ‘Prosters’ from my mom. She said it means people who feel very strong about something. Then they go hold up signs telling other people what they feel. I’m still learning to read but I saw some signs at my old school. They said: “We don’t want to integrate.”


I can count by 2’s. Wanna hear? 2, 4, 6, 8, We don’t want to integrate.
Integrate is another big word. I think it’s when you mix things. Like carrots and cabbage to make coleslaw salad. I see my mom uses a grate to make it. I don’t really like coleslaw so I also don’t want to integrate either.


My mom took my hand and squeezed a bit too hard. She made me walk really fast. It was 14 November 1960. I remember because it was my birthday the next day. I was dressed in my Sunday best, but it wasn’t Sunday. It was a normal school day except it turned out not to be so normal.

My black shoes were really shiny. And my short white socks folded over two times. My school bag wasn’t heavy that day. And all these moms and dads and kids were standing outside my school. And shouting that 2, 4, 6, 8 song. I didn’t know what everyone was so excited about. I wanted to push to the front to see but mom held my hand so tight. Then she moved to a place where I could see and all we saw was Ruby walking with marshalls. Two in front and two behind her. I thought she looked like a princess and they were her footmen. When she came close, I waved at her and she smiled back at me. Mom grabbed me and pulled me away.
Mom said I was not to talk to Ruby. I asked her why not. She said because she is different and not to sass her. I tried to think what my mom meant. Ruby had a pretty dress like me. She had black shoes that were shiny just like mine. She had short white socks like me. The bow in her hair was very pretty. “Ma, is she a princess?” My mom looked at me funny when I asked her that.


So I went to my first grade class. Miss Peters told us to sit down. I looked all around but didn’t see Ruby anywhere. “Settle down and we’ll try to get some work done.” Miss Peters said. But as she started to take roll call, Molly Edward’s mom came to the door and asked that Molly go home with her. Molly went red and took her bag and went with her mom. Then came the dad of the boy with freckles, then came another mom to take the shortest girl in my class. So Miss Peters hardly had a chance to say the ABC’s ‘for all these moms and dads came to fetch their kids.
One boy put his hand up and said: “Miss, why is everybody going home? We just got here.” Miss Peters looked like she was a kettle starting to boil. She kept her lips together til they looked white and then she exploded: “Because, some people think they can just waltz into our school like they own it. And disrupt all our classes because the coloured school in town is too far. The Bible says that God made each tribe to stay together and not mingle with others and this is what comes from people wanting to mingle.” And then my mom was at the door calling me to go so I didn’t hear anymore. But Miss Peters was very mad.


When we walked past the Principal’s office, I saw Ruby sitting with her mom and just kicking her feet. She looked very bored. I wish we could play but mom yanked my arm and we went home.
That night my mom and dad were shouting at the TV. The TV was saying that 2,4,6,8 song again. It seems like everyone wants to learn counting by 2’s real bad. And they don’t want mixed salads. And my dad looked at me and said: “You don’t go near that Nigger ya hear?” and I just said “uh uh” cos I don’t know what a nigger is but I could tell my dad was super serious ’bout it.


The next day was my birthday like I said and I wanted to take cupcakes to my class like we did in Kindergarten. Mom said she wasn’t sure if that was a good idea. And I said “Of course it’s the best idea! Cos it my birthday!” But Dad said we could have a party on the weekend and mom said maybe she could bring some cake to school later. So we went to school with no cupcakes. And it’s maybe better because the crowds by the road and school were pushing and shoving. They were holding signs about God and some held Bibles up. But its very strange because it didn’t feel like church. Then I heard some big boys shouting “Go away Nigger! We don’t want you here!” I looked around to see who they were shouting at. That’s when I saw Ruby walking with her school case and white bow in her hair. “Did he mean her?” I wondered. “Mom, why is everyone so mad at that little girl?” but she didn’t hear me.

Then I saw it. A black box with a little baby in. It wasn’t a real baby. Just a doll. And the ladies holding the box were laughing. I just stared. Why did the grown ups want to play with a doll? Then I realized it was a coffin.

I’d seen one at my Meema’s funeral. It had been a very sad day. My mom cried a lot. Even my dad looked very sad. But these ladies holding the coffin were laughing so much. It was so confusing. Mom decided I wouldn’t go to school that day or the next. “It’s just too dangerous Dot.” she said.

“But why Mom? Why are there posters at my school every day?”

“Protesters honey. And they’re just mad that that little coloured girl Ruby Bridges is going to school.”

“But why Mom? Is she breaking the law?”

“No, the President actually said she may go to that school.”

“Then why? Is she bad? I don’t understand. The other moms had a baby in a coffin…”

“Hush Dot. That’s enough now. She’s not bad, she’s different and some people feel it’s better for her to go to a school with her own kind. Now go play.”

But I didn’t want to play. I felt bad for Ruby. I felt like I wanted to be her friend but I didn’t know how. And my dad had said I may not and he was real scary sometimes.

So I went to my room and got out my crayons and paper. And I drew a picture for Ruby. And I put it in my case. And when I finally went to school again, I slipped the picture underneath Mrs Henry’s door. (I had heard that Ruby was the only kid in Mrs Henry’s class.) And then I went back to my class.

My teacher did the roster and when she called my name, I put my hand up. “Dorothy White.” And for the first time in my life, I wished I wasn’t white.

In fourth period, I needed to pee so I asked Miss Peters for a hall pass. When I walked into the bathroom, I got a fright cos Ruby was drinking water. She hadn’t seen me yet and I thought of backing out and coming back later. But then I remembered the picture I drew for her and blurted out “Did you get my picture?” Ruby shot up and wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her jersey. “Did you draw it for me?” I nodded. I felt a bit shy all of a sudden. “It’s really nice,” Ruby said. “Thank you.” I looked down and then went into the stall. I didn’t know what else to say. When I came out to wash my hands, Ruby wasn’t there anymore. And then I saw it. Her white bow. I grabbed it and ran down the hall to Mrs Henry’s classroom. “Ruby, you forgot your bow!” I shouted. She turned just before going into her class. “I didn’t forget it. It’s for you.” Then she went in and closed the door.

That night I ate all my coleslaw. It was actually kinda nice.

Ruby Bridges
New Orleans
1960

Written by Janet Kieswetter in honour of George Floyd and all Africans who have been murdered or mistreated by whites. May good prevail over evil.

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