In 1960 racial tension was building in the South as desegregation of the school systems was being hotly contested in places like New Orleans. There, a very young African American student named Ruby Bridges was heckled daily for being the first to cross the line between black and white schools. 50 years ago today she made those first brave steps protected by a team of federal marshals. John Steinbeck was present and documented the scene in his travelogue, Travels with Charley in Search of America. Just a handful of white parents decided to keep their children in the same school early on, but the number of supporters grew and and the protests slowly began to fade.

Ruby Bridges, now 56, recalls that time well, “I entered this building to integrate the school, and I believe in integration. If we’re gonna get past our racial differences, it’s gonna come from our kids, but they have to be together to do that.” Her courage inspired Norman Rockwell to paint one of his most powerful works, “The Problem We All Live With,” pictured here.

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