This is one of my favorite stories about loving your enemies. Ruby Nell Bridges was a little six year old African-American girl who was chosen as one of the first children to desegregate the New Orleans school system in November of 1960. She was not the only child chosen; there were a grand total of six African-American children who were candidates to desegregate the school system, two of whom decided not to go. Ruby was the only child to be integrated into William Frantz Public School on that momentous November day. Her mother and four federal marshals made sure she arrived safely through a hostile white crowd shouting racist taunts at a six-year-old child.
The first day Ruby did not make it out of the principal’s office as white parents rushed their children out of the school. The second day, Ruby met her teacher, Mrs. Henry. Ruby looked at her uncertainly. She’d never had a white teacher before. But Mrs. Henry greeted her warmly. Ruby remembers she was much like her own mother, only with a Boston accent. In the year those two spent together alone in that classroom, they came to love each other.
Going to that school had cost Ruby’s family a lot. Her father lost his job at the grocery store. Her father’s parents lost the land they sharecropped in Mississippi because the landowner knew whose granddaughter it was down in New Orleans causing all that trouble. But then there were other people who showed Jesus’ game changing love as well. One local white businessman gave Ruby’s father a job painting houses. Other white families braved the angry mobs and returned their children to school. Still other determined, loving souls took to walking behind the marshal’s car, using their bodies as shields to make sure Ruby remained safe
Through it all, Ruby’s mother had told her to pray to God when she was afraid. She could pray to God anytime, anywhere and God would hear her. She prayed on the way to school in the marshal’s car and was able to ignore most of the awful taunts coming from the crowd. One day, however, she stopped at the front door of the school, turned to the crowd, and spoke. Mrs. Henry, watching through the classroom window, saw Ruby do this and later asked her what she had said to the crowd. Ruby responded that she wasn’t talking to the crowd. She was praying for them. She explained she had forgotten to pray in the car. Ruby said she prayed, “God be with me, and be with those people too. Forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.” Mrs. Henry’s response was, “Ruby Nell, you are a very special person.” And she hugged her more than usual and looked at her with the same pride that would fill her mother’s face when Ruby had done something right. That's a wonderful prayer to consider as we head into the season of Lent and Easter.