Ruby Bridges, who became a symbol of the civil rights movement as a first-grader in 1960, Thursday called on Port Washington students to look beyond people's skin color.
Speaking to an audience at , Bridges recounted the highly charged days in New Orleans when she was surrounded by U.S. marshalls as one of the first pupils to defy segregationists and attend a formerly all-white school in the South.
"I was thrust into the middle of this," she said, recalling the confusion of a 6-year-old as she was escorted past jeering crowds of whites. On the first day, she said, white parents pulled more than 500 pupils from the William Frantz Elementary School rather than have them take classes with her.
Bridges, whose story was made into a 1998 TV movie, recalled with affection Barbara Henry, who taught little Ruby as her only student that tumultuous year. If it hadn't been for the caring white teacher, Bridges said, she would emerged as a different person.
The two were reunited several years ago on the "Oprah Winfrey Show."
Bridges recalled that not all the heroes of the civil rights struggle were black.
Among the martyrs of the civil rights movements, she noted were James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, one black and two whites. They were murdered in 1964 in Mississippi.
"Evil comes in all shapes and colors," she said.
Bridges also spoke to pupils at Daly Elementary School Thursday through a grant arranged by the Port Washington Education Foundation. She was scheduled to visit Guggenheim Elementary on Friday.
Artist Norman Rockwell helped to burn the image of Ruby Bridges in the national consciousness with his painting "The Problem We All Live With."
Bridges challenged students to look beyond the surface when they meet people. "You should never judge someone by the color of their skin," she said.