Ruby Bridges, Made Famous in Iconic Painting, Goes to White House

The woman was featured in one of our most iconic Civil Rights era paintings. Now, she'll be on hand to bring it to the country's most powerful home.

By Jorge Rivas Jul 15, 2011

Ruby Bridges is perhaps best known as the 6-year-old  little girl depicted in Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting "The Problem We All Live With." And today, she’s headed to the White House.

The work was inspired by the story of Bridges and her struggle to integrate New Orleans public schools in November of 1960. The image featured the young African American girl being escorted to school by federal marshals amidst signs of protest and fearful ignorance.

Charles Burks, one of the U.S. marshals who escorted Bridges and her mother into the school building, remembers the little girl who became a hero.  "She showed a lot of courage," Burke said. "She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier. And we’re all very proud of her."

Six years after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling declared that separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional, Ruby Bridges became the first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South.

The Norman Rockwell Museum is loaning the iconic image to the White House by the request of President Barack Obama. The event falls on the 50th anniversary of Bridges’ history-changing walk that ultimately integrating the William Frantz Public School in New Orleans. Bridges will be at the White House today to mark the occasion.

Norman Rockwell, "The Problem We All Live With", 1963. Oil on canvas. (Click on image for larger version.)

"I was about 18 or 19 years old the first time that I actually saw it," says Ruby Bridges in a press release for the Norman Rockwell Museum, where she now serves on the board. "It confirmed what I had been thinking all along — that this was very important and you did this, and it should be talked about… At that point in time that’s what the country was going through, and here was a man who had been doing lots of work-painting family images — and all of the sudden decided this is what I am going to do… it’s wrong and I’m going to say that it’s wrong."

The painting will be exhibited at The White House through October 31, 2011.