Barbara Henry

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Barbara Henry
Barbara Henry.jpg
Barbara Henry with Ruby Bridges
Born (1932-01-01) January 1, 1932 (age 85)
Nationality American
Occupation Teacher

Barbara Henry (born January 1, 1932)[1] is an American teacher who refused to leave her teaching job when white parents, students, and teachers decided to leave their elementary school to protest the desegregation of schools in New Orleans in 1960. Henry was the first teacher in the Frantz Elementary School who was willing to teach an African-American student, Ruby Bridges.

Mrs. Henry was accustomed to a diverse world experience from her travel and teaching experiences in Europe, not to mention her own education at Girls Latin School in Boston, a microcosm of the City of Boston where “we learned… to appreciate and enjoy our important commonalities, amid our external differences of class, community, or color.” Before moving to New Orleans she had taught in overseas military dependents' schools, which were integrated.[2] Henry had been living in New Orleans with her husband for just two months when a call came from the superintendent offering her a teaching position. When Henry asked if the job was in a school that would be integrated, the superintendent replied, “Would that make any difference to you?” She said no.[3]

In New Orleans, in 1960, the young teacher Henry frequently passed through a mob of protesters shouting racist insults and threats like "2 4 6 8, we will never integrate". That was the reality in 1960 for both Ruby and Barbara. Ruby was six years old, and the first black student to help integrate the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Barbara, her white teacher, was a newcomer to the city and its schools."[4]

On the first day of the school year in 1960, Henry's and Bridges' relentless refusal to be intimidated caused them to become renowned figures in the American civil rights struggle. As soon as Bridges got into the school, white parents went in and brought their own children out; all but one of the white teachers also refused to teach while a black child was enrolled. Only Barbara Henry was willing to teach Bridges, and for over a year Mrs. Henry taught her alone, "as if she were teaching a whole class." That first day, Ruby and her adult companions spent the entire day in the principal's office; the chaos of the school prevented their moving to the classroom until the second day. When Ruby Bridges initially met her instructor she must have felt apprehensive. "I had never seen a white teacher before," she said, "but Mrs. Henry was the nicest teacher I ever had. She tried very hard to keep my mind off what was going on outside. But I couldn't forget that there were no other kids."[5]

The court-ordered first day of integrated schools in New Orleans, November 14, 1960, was commemorated by Norman Rockwell in the painting The Problem We All Live With.[6]


  1. ^ Henry, Barbara; Helman, Scott (June 27, 2014). "Teaching Ruby Bridges". The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 30, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Barbara Henry Addresses the School".  External link in |title= (help);
  3. ^ MacDonald, Bridget (January 20, 2010). "West Roxbury’s Barbara Henry taught Ruby Bridges during Civil Rights era". Roslindale Transcript. Archived from the original on November 11, 2012. Retrieved August 29, 2011. 
  4. ^ Renwick, Lucille (1990). "The Courage to Learn". Instructor Magazine. Retrieved October 3, 2009. 
  5. ^ McCluskey, Eileen (2002). "Ruby Bridges evokes tears, smiles as she tells her tale". Harvard University Gazette (April 25, 2002). Retrieved August 27, 2011. 
  6. ^ Hunter-Gault, Charlayne (February 18, 1997). "A Class of One: A Conversation with Ruby Bridges Hall". Online PBS NewsHour. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bridges Hall, Ruby. Through My Eyes, Scholastic Press, 1999. (ISBN 0590189239)
  • Coles, Robert. The Story of Ruby Bridges, Scholastic Press, 1995. (ISBN 0590572814)
  • Steinbeck, John. Travels with Charley in Search of America, Viking Adult, 1962. (ISBN 0670725080)
  • The Unfinished Agenda of Brown v. Board of Education, John Wiley & Sons, 2004. (ISBN 0471649260)
  • "The Courage to Learn. (Ruby Bridges and teacher Barbara Henry) (Interview)", Instructor (1990), August 1, 2001, Renwick, Lucille

External links[edit]