Ruby Bridges’ powerful story sets tone for Ervin Scholars Program’s 25th anniversary celebration

Many decades after Ruby Bridges broke the color barrier in New Orleans’ public school system, she continues to share her extraordinary story of a 6-year-old whose bravery and strength helped break down the forces of segregation. It’s a history that closely parallels the American history of race relations during the last half-century.


Bridges will speak at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, in Graham Chapel at Washington University in St. Louis. Her talk will kick off the university’s three-day celebration marking the 25th anniversary of the Ervin Scholars Program. Her talk, “The Power of Our Names, Our Stories,” is free and open to the public.

The late James E. McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, founded the Ervin Scholars Program in honor of the university’s first African-American dean, John B. Ervin, PhD (1916-1992).

The program was designed to foster a richly diverse educational atmosphere on campus and to enhance the overall quality and diversity of the university’s student body. Since its inception in 1987, hundreds of Ervin Scholars’ lives have been changed forever by their educational experiences at the university.

In November 1960, Bridges walked up the steps of William Frantz Public School in New Orleans as the first black student at the formerly all-white elementary school.

Bridges entered the history books just as she was entering first grade. Her calm demeanor and unwavering bravery – and that of her family members — against the hostile forces of the white families in the neighborhood served as an inspiration to the nation and pushed the civil rights movement forward.

Renowned artist Norman Rockwell was so moved by her image that he created the now-famous painting “The Problem We All Live With,” appearing in Look Magazine in 1964; she also inspired historian Robert Coles to write The Story of Ruby Bridges in 1995.

In 1999, Bridges published a memoir, Through My Eyes. That same year, she established the Ruby Bridges Foundation to support the values of tolerance, respect and appreciation for all differences.

Bridges supports a number of literacy initiatives, including First Book, a national nonprofit organization that provides new books to children from low-income families, and Book Relief, which brought books to the citizens affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

For more information about the Assembly Series lecture, visit or call 314-9354620; for information concerning the Ervin Scholars celebration, visit the website link, pages.wustl.eduervin25 or call 314-935-7192.