This warms my heart a little. The iconic Norman Rockwell painting, entitled “The Problem We All Live with”, depicts little six year old Ruby Bridges marching determinedly between US Marshals on her way to her first day of first grade at New Orleans’s William Frantz Elementary School. Her mother’s staunch support of the Civil Rights movement led her parents to respond to a call from the NAACP for young Black children to take a placement test to determine if they were academically eligible to integrate the all-white school district. Though five other students passed the test, only Bridges enrolled in a new school, thus becoming the first African-American child to attend an all-White school in the South. She was met with an angry mob outside the school, who cursed, shouted, and threw things, but she never showed an ounce of fear. She was the future.
And on Friday, she met someone I’m sure she never imagined being able to meet within her lifetime–Barack Obama, the United States’s first President of African descent.
I will never forget the night of November 4, 2008. I will never forget being in Pennsylvania with the College Democrats, going door to door trying to get the last reluctant would-be voters to the polls before they closed, and witnessing what can best be described as an explosion of joy as the state was called in Obama’s favor: shouting could be heard from the surrounding households, people in their cars honked their horns and screamed out the window. It was a huge victory. Upon getting back to campus I ran to the Carl A. Fields Center, where they were having a watch party for the election results. As the night went on, and the blue began to outnumber the red on the map of the country, I felt an excitement unlike anything I had ever known–all my campaigning, all my postering, all my voter-registration-drive-ing, all my phone-banking, all my HOPE aside, I don’t know if I ever really thought he would win. But there it was, unfolding clearly before my eyes…I witnessed history. When the final decision was announced, the joy and excitement in that room was palpable. I will never feel emotion like that again in my life. I have photographs that do some justice to what happened…I don’t have the words to describe it. We, roughly 18-22 year old fairly privileged (as Princeton students) AfroCarribedescendedfromslavesandmaybeAmericans, felt like the world had opened up and something great had been achieved.
And if that’s how we, the young and only somewhat aware, felt at this moment, I cannot imagine being Ruby Bridges. I talked with my father, who marched with Malcolm X, and my grandmother, who marched with Dr. King, about this moment, and I can barely understand their reactions. They have witnessed much more history than I have. We have all played small roles in shaping history. Ruby Bridges, much like Barack Obama, molded it with her own two hands. They have gone boldly where no one before them had gone, and Norman Rockwell’s photo can have no better home than the walls of the Oval Office.