Southern Arizona African American museum to host first in-person guest, exhibits this month

Ruby Bridges will discuss her experience as a civil rights advocate.

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The African American Museum of Southern Arizona will host its first guest, then debut its first physical exhibits inside the student union at the University of Arizona this month after launching online Dec. 31.

The Arizona Daily Star reported that on Nov. 17 the museum’s guest speaker Ruby Bridges will discuss her experience as a civil rights advocate during a “fireside” chat at a Tucson school.

TheGrio previously reported via CNN that Bridges, 68, was a 6-year-old first-grader on Nov. 14, 1960 when U.S. Deputy Marshals escorted her past jeering crowds of white people to become the first Black student at a racially segregated school in New Orleans.

U.S. deputy marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges on Nov. 14, 1960 from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Bridges will talk about her experience of integrating the school and other topics during a “fireside” chat as a guest of the African American Museum of Southern Arizona. (Photo: AP/File)

Bridges, who cemented her place in history that day at William Frantz Elementary School, authored a picture book about her experience for the youngest of readers titled “I Am Ruby Bridges.”

Famed American painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell painted Bridges for a piece titled “The Problem We All Live With,” which was hung in a hallway outside the Oval Office when Bridges met with then-President Barack Obama in 2011. 

Bridges’ sold-out visit is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Nov. 17 in the auditorium at Palo Verde High Magnet School. Fittingly, on Nov. 14 several schools in Tucson and elsewhere across the nation will honor her with Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day. The event marks the 62nd anniversary of Bridges integrating Frantz elementary.

On Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day, students are immersed in history lessons and engage in thoughtful dialogue. They also participate in a ceremonial walk around campus. The Mountain West Group is awarding grants of up to $1,000 to help fund walk-day activities.

The annual walk first began in California in 2018. Beverely Elliott, the museum’s co-founder and executive director, said most students won’t actually walk to school on Nov. 14 as they do in California because of safety concerns.

Meanwhile, plans have been in the works for months for the museum’s first physical exhibit . Following Bridges’ visit, the museum plans to unveil a new gallery in Room 244 of the student union. It will initially feature exhibits and videos about Arizona history such as the Buffalo Soldiers and prominent Tucsonans, including UA men’s basketball coach Fred Snowden.

Elliott also said the museum is planning seasonal “pop-up” displays on Kwanzaa and Martin Luther King Jr.

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