BARBARA HENRY

BARBARA HENRY

By: Darrelyn L. Tutt

Barbara Henry was the remarkable first grade teacher who gave "wings" to Ruby Bridges (see yesterday's Words).
Her influence and fight for integration was done in a methodical, practical, concrete way which held repercussions that she could have never imagined.
Of her life there is much to learn and reflect on about ourselves.
Listen to the voice of this wise teacher:
"Ruby was a smart, sensitive person. It was a joy to go to school each day and to have her as, well, my child. I was newly married and had no children of my own at that time, and I think Ruby became "my child"! She was sweet, beautiful, and so brave. It was such an anxious time, and I often wondered how that little girl could come to school each day and be as relaxed and trusting as she was.
That year certainly wasn't the experience I thought it would be. My husband and I moved to New Orleans in September because of his job transfer. I thought New Orleans would be a romantic place, filled with southern hospitality.
I did enjoy, for a while, exploring New Orleans' historic sights as a tourist. Yet I soon longed to return to my teaching career. So one day my touring took me to the New Orleans School Headquarters to apply for a teaching position. Very soon thereafter, the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. James Redmond, phoned me and asked if I would mind teaching an integrated class. 'Of course not,' I answered. He then gave me the assignment at William Frantz.
Nobody lifted a finger to make Ruby's life easier. The principal was a rigid, prejudiced woman who gave me no guidance or help. Ruby and I were both treated as unwelcome outsiders. When I went to the teachers' lounge at lunchtime, the other teachers at first ignored me or made unpleasant remarks about the fact that I was willing to teach a black child.
When I discovered how the other teachers were spending their time, I was appalled. Quite by accident one day, I came upon a classroom, the long-hidden other first grade, and discovered three white students talking among themselves. Their teacher, in her ankle socks and saddle shoes, was listening to the radio. Other teachers sat through the day with no students at all. They had been given the option of transferring to other schools, but they preferred a year of not teaching.
... I went to the principal and told her I wanted Ruby and the other first graders to be together. 'By law, you have to integrate this school,' I said. 'Integration means putting black and white children in the same classroom. As I see it, you are breaking the law by keeping them separate.' The principal wouldn't budge, but I suggested we call the superintendent of schools to talk about it. The principal finally gave in. However, she would not force the other first-graders to include Ruby in her class. Instead, the white children came into my classroom for part of each day. It was progress."
-Barbara Henry / First grade teacher
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Barbara Henry intended to be an excellent teacher of a classroom of children at William Frantz, and instead, became a student under tutelage of teachers named Bigotry, Prejudice, and Cruelty.
A formation of character was developed in "her" in that one year that would leave unforgettable imprints on her personal life and teaching career.
Her staunch, stationary, and poised position, remained ardently in place in the midst of social pressures too complex to understand.
 Admirable. Courageous. Brilliant.
Barbara Henry and Ruby Bridges are one in the same;
Remarkable individuals composed of  indomitable character.
Barbara Henry was exhausted after this intitial "initiation" of teaching.
It took a mental toll, understandably, on her:
"At the end of the year, it was very hard to let go of Ruby. Even so, I wasn't sorry to leave New Orleans. Integration had been a shattering experience. After New Orleans, Boston seemed like a very appealing, uncomplicated place. I have trouble with the word 'proud,' but I am pleased that Ruby and I made it through the year. A goal had been set out for Ruby, and we reached it.
For years, I thought about Ruby. I had one teeny photo of her, with her front teeth missing, and I guarded it my whole life. The picture was in the top right-hand drawer of my bureau, and I would check every once in a while to make sure Ruby was still there.
She was like an invisible part of my family. Over the years, I told my children about her again and again. I had to keep the memory alive. After I left New Orleans, I knew the school was not a place where I was welcome. The principal had made it clear my association with that school was complete. I was never extended an invitation to return. But I used to wonder how Ruby was doing."
-Barbara Henry
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In 1996 Oprah Winfrey fostered a reunion between teacher and student.
After thirty-five years, they both considered this reunion one of the most joyful experiences of their lives.
They continue to be a mutual blessing to one another to this day.
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Hmmm ...
There's a powerful lot here to reflect on and these thoughts have been provoked in me, so I put them to you:
Who's walked a mile in your shoes "with" you when the going got rough?
Who dared to stick it out with you and stand alone with you?
Who's left an imprint on your heart and an imprint on your life that has forever changed your life and defined "terms and words" to you in qualifying, courageous ways?
Who's your Barbara Henry?
Are you a Barbara Henry?
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We each have the power to make a difference when we stand for the ideals that our lips speak to.
One courageous step at a time ...
Take it with me.