Halifax County Little Theatre’s upcoming production of “Ruby: the Story of Ruby Bridges” calls for the portrayal of three strong women at the center of the civil rights movement, and four local actresses are more than ready to tackle this important job of telling their story. Ma’Kira Taylor, Mya King, Sharonda Claiborne and Catherine Glass have embraced the challenge of bringing this moment of American history to local audiences.
Sometimes things must get terrible for situations to get better. Sometimes a few must stand up, to make the masses sit down. Thus, the plight of the civil rights movement in America and, more specifically, the dilemma of the Bridges family in New Orleans, Louisiana, beginning in 1960.
This story goes back further than that and continues today. In 1896, just 31 years after the Civil War, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites was constitutional in Plessy v. Ferguson. It was not until 1954 that the Supreme Court overturned this ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, and deemed it unconstitutional for public schools to be racially segregated in the United States.
Coincidentally, this was the same year Ruby Nell Bridges was born in Mississippi to Abon and Lucille Bridges. At the age of 2, Bridges and her family relocated to New Orleans, the city where she would single-handedly desegregate William Frantz Elementary School at the age of 6. Bridges’ first year of school is the basis of “Ruby: The Story of Ruby Bridges.”
Audiences will see Ruby portrayed by two different actresses during different times in the young girl’s life. Taylor, 9, will take on the younger Bridges role as she is experiencing first-hand the difficult task of going to a new school where many people were angered by her presence.
Six-year-old Ruby did not comprehend the importance of what she was doing or the whirlwind of conflict swirling around her first days of school, but she knew her mother thought this was the right thing to do, and that was reason enough for her. As she was escorted by federal marshals through screaming crowds of protestors, into an empty classroom where she would be the only student, she remained calm and hopeful. Day after day, she endured the taunting protestors and isolation with courage and patience.
Bridges’ innocence is the essence of this story, and what will endear her to audiences. From mistaking the protesting crowd for a Mardi Gras celebration, to feeling responsible when her father loses his job, to skipping lunch and quietly hiding peanut butter sandwiches in her desk for fear she was being poisoned, Bridges’ 6-year-old tenacity touches all. For her, everything can be fixed by a fervent prayer or a game of jump rope with her best friends.
Playing such an extraordinary character is a challenge Taylor welcomes. Taylor is no newcomer to the stage. She has appeared in “The Little Mermaid, Jr.”, “Frozen, Jr.,” and “The Miracle Worker.” She is excited to take on this important role, and feels she is similar to Ruby in that they are both “very understanding, funny, outspoken, and ready to be the first to make a change in this world.”
Offstage, Taylor enjoys clogging, and participating in her church choir. She says this show is great for all ages and it is “a great way to learn about important history while also being entertained.”
Fifteen-year-old King will put her spin on the older Bridges, the narrator, looking back on her experience as a 6-year-old integrating William Frantz. This is King’s first time on stage, and she brings an eagerness and excitement to her role which is impressive. She arrived at the first rehearsal with scenes one and two already memorized, and she has continued to devote herself seriously to this role.
King is a part of the Peer Mediation group at Halifax County High School and enjoys learning about English while she is there. She understands the importance of the role she plays and how this time period in history was very difficult and believes this play will give the audience “insight on how it was during segregation.”
Behind every strong woman is usually another strong woman, and such is the case with Ruby. She had an amazing support person in her mother Lucille. Veteran actor Claiborne will tackle this role with the strength and faith that Lucille Bridges brought to her family during this tumultuous time.
Claiborne loves shows based on true stories, especially ones that have an important message to tell and that is why she wanted to get involved in this production.
Only one teacher at William Frantz Elementary School was willing to have a black child in her class. That teacher, Mrs. Henry, is at the center of this story, standing with Ruby every step of the way. A Boston native, she was Ruby’s teacher that first year, and the only other person in the classroom. She assumed the role of teacher, mentor, supporter, and friend.
There is no better person to take on this role than Glass, a 26-year education veteran, and beloved middle school teacher in our community. She understands first-hand the importance educators can make in the lives of the children they teach.
Glass has learned a lot being a part of this production. “The in-depth struggles for African Americans during this time period really came to light. We’ve learned this in history but being a part of this show brings it home,” she explained.
This is not the first time Glass has been on stage. She’s been a part of HCLT’s “Charlotte’s Web,” “Christmas Belles” and “Miracle on 34th Street,” just to name a few.
Her experience in the classroom and on the stage will be a great combination in bringing Mrs. Henry’s story to audiences.
This is such an important story in our nation’s history for everyone to know, and these four strong women are working hard to bring it to life for our community. Sharonda encourages everyone to “come educate yourself on the racial struggles that haunt this country and learn ways to overcome adversity.” Ruby, Lucille, and Mrs. Henry would all agree.