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William Frantz Public School

A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans

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Connie L. Schaffer, Meg White and Martha Graham Viator

Why should you care about what happened to William Frantz Public School? Yes, Ruby Bridges entered the iconic doors of William Frantz in 1960, but the building’s unique role in New Orleans school desegregation is only one part of the important history of this school. Many additional and equally important stories have unfolded within its walls and the neighborhoods surrounding it. These stories matter.

It matters that society has historically marginalized Black students and continues to do so. It matters that attempts to dismantle systemic racism in schools and other institutions still face strong resistance, and these issues continue to deeply divide the United States. It matters that the building remains standing as an indomitable symbol of the resiliency of public education despite decades of waning support, misguided accountability, and a city devasted by Hurricane Katrina. It matters that opportunism, under the guise of recovery, reshaped public education in New Orleans.

William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans provides more than an examination of education in one school and one city. It recounts a story that matters to anyone who cares about public education.

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3. Do You Hear Me?

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CHAPTER THREE

Do You Hear Me?

Images from newsreels, newspaper photographs, Norman Rockwell’s painting, and the words of John Steinbeck and John Updike firmly anchored William Frantz Public School in the memories of most Americans born before the 1950s, but many in the following generations had no knowledge about the school or its place in history. That changed when several books and a movie introduced a new generation to William Frantz Public School and further solidified the school’s role in American social and educational history. In 1995, Robert Coles, the psychiatrist who supported Bridges and her family in 1960, authored a children’s book, The Story of Ruby Bridges. Although Coles took some liberties with the story, millions of children read the book and learned the story of William Frantz Public School and Ruby Bridges.1 Coles and Bridges remained close after the book’s release and used the proceeds from sales of the book to start the Ruby Bridges Foundation.

In the late 1990s another book as well as a movie acquainted more children with William Frantz Public School. Bridges authored the first of her own children’s books, Through My Eyes in 1999. The book featured numerous historic photographs of William Frantz Public School and introduced readers to the familiar cast of characters such as Bridges’ family; her teacher, Mrs. Henry; the U.S. Federal Marshals who protected her; and the screaming crowds who threatened her.2 The story moved from print to screen when Walt Disney broadcasted...

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