The Problem We All Live With


I grew up in a segregated world. The images that divided my world existed all around. Everyone got along well, but segregation remained in many ways. The shop across the parking lot from A&P grocery, where I worked, showed a big sign in the window, “No Coloreds.” The first ten years of school were with all white kids. The black kids went to their school in the Douglass Community where they lived, while the whites attended their schools in the main part of town. In an old newspaper I own are listed two sections in the houses for rent: “Houses for Rent” and “Houses for Rent Colored.” Water fountains were labeled “Whites Only” and “Colored.” Saturdays at the movies would find the “white” kids on the lower floor and the “black” kids in the balcony. The “whites” came through the front door, and the “blacks” through the side door. I primarily interacted with only two black citizens, Jim, who shined shoes at the local barber, and a man I called “Piccalo,” who worked at the local Gulf station. 

“Ruby” at left. “The Problem We All Live With” by Norman Rockwell at right

Despite being segregated, everyone in town seemed to get along well, even as integration began to move into our town. In 1964 when the schools in Plano integrated, there were few problems. Community leaders from both sections of town came together to make things run smoothly. Coach Gray sat the players down and told us he didn’t expect any problems when the team integrated. “They put their pants on just like us, one leg at a time.” The only issue I remember came from some fans in the third game of the season. I had broken my collarbone in the second game, and the coach asked if it was okay for John Griggs, one of our black players who moved up from J.V., to wear my jersey. I had no problem, but some complained when they saw him in my jersey. The following week he had a new jersey, and I stood on the sidelines in mine. The team had no problems working together. Some say that the integrated 1965 football team, which won state, made it easier for the school and community to move through integration so smoothly. The story of our town’s journey to integration is chronicled in the book “Football and Integration in Plano, Texas.” (Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation, Inc.)

Unfortunately, integration did not go as smoothly in many parts of the country. Civil Rights has a lot of brave men and women, black and white, who worked to bring the country together. Some of the most courageous people I have read about were Abon and Lucille Bridges and their daughter Ruby. Although Abon was initially reluctant, his wife Lucille wanted their six-year-old daughter, Ruby, to have a quality education. On November 14, 1960, this brave little girl, guarded by federal marshalls, walked into the doors of William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. As she walked toward the school, an angry mob of protesters screamed racial slurs and threats at the child. There were threats to poison her, and one person held up a coffin with a black doll inside. Ruby bravely walked with the marshalls up the steps and into the school. Teachers resigned, and most of the parents pulled their students from school. One teacher, Barbara Henry, remained to teach Ruby. Ruby was the only child in her first-grade classroom for the remainder of the year. Ruby was one of the “New Orleans Four.” The other three third-grade girls, Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost, and Gail Etienne (The McDonogh Three),  walked into the McDonogh 19 school under similar circumstances.

The incident wasn’t without significant fallout for the family. Abon lost his job, and he and Lucille eventually separated. Ruby’s grandparents faced eviction from their sharecropper land, and the local grocer banned the family from shopping at the store. At the same time, the family received support from many black and white families in the community. Norman Rockwell painted a picture representing that first day entitled “The Problem We All Live With.” As a result, he received scores of disapproving mail and was even called a “race traitor” by one person.  

It’s sad and regrettable that even today, over sixty years later, there are still barriers between people of different colors and nationalities. It is better than it was in the years before the integration years, but there are times when prejudice still raises its ugly head. Discrimination has existed since the beginning of mankind and will likely continue until the end of time. 

As those who follow the Lord, we are told to view people through the eyes of Jesus. Luke writes in Acts 10 how God looks at all people. Peter tells the household of Cornelius, “He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean…I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”  Acts 10:28-35 (NIV2011)

We may not have the ability to change the world, but we can pattern our lives after the will of God when it comes to how we treat people who may be different from us. Jesus died for all men and women regardless of skin color or nationality. “For God so loved the world” describes every person who walks the face of our planet. 

Prejudice remains “The Problem We All Live With.” The question is, will we be a part of the problem or the solution? Are we as brave as six-year-old Ruby and her parents, willing to make the world better for everyone?

Danny Minton is a former Elder and minister at Southern Hills Church of Christ

One comment

  • CBS This Morning had a segment about these four little girls on this morning’s show. This topic is so close to my heart. I, too, grew up surrounded by prejudice in the 50s and 60s. It became a passion of mine to promote love and acceptance regardless of race, IQ, social status, gender identity, or religion. The world could be so much better if we were all just HUMAN.


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