Exploring Civil Rights History at Akili Academy

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Born September 8th, 1954, Ruby Bridges was the first black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in the Upper 9th Ward. Ruby was escorted to the William Frantz School, now home to Akili Academy, by federal marshals and through more than 500 protestors on November 14th, 1960. She spent most of her first year alone in the classroom, but the following year she was in classes with other students, which put an end to the school’s segregation. 

Ruby was one of six black children in New Orleans who passed a qualifying exam that allowed her to attend William Frantz. Two of the children remained at their old school, and three were transferred to McDonogh No. 19 and became known as the McDonogh Three, leaving Ruby to attend William Frantz by herself. 

Although Ruby’s father had reservations about his daughter attending the Frantz school, Ruby’s mother felt that it was necessary for Ruby to do so, for Ruby’s own education as well as for the future of all black children. When Ruby began attending school, white parents pulled their children out and, with the exception of Barbara Henry, who had recently relocated to New Orleans, all the teachers at the school refused to teach her. 

After a few days, children went back to school, and the protests subsided. Ruby, however, remained alone in her classroom. Additionally, President Eisenhower dispatched the U.S. Marshals to oversee Ruby’s safety and only permitted her to eat food from home after poison threats. 

Ruby still lives in New Orleans and previously fought to save the school by getting it listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it was threatened with closure in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which brought roughly five feet of flooding into the building, in 2005.

After the storm, the school, along with 113 others, was under the oversight of Louisiana’s Recovery School District. Subsequently, the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish invested $1.8 billion into primary and secondary schools. 

In the Spring of 2008, an architect was hired and by Fall of 2010, the $23.5 million rehabilitation project began. Three years later, Ruby’s first-year classroom became part of the new Akili Academy, which began operating in the newly renovated building in August 2013. 

Akili Academy’s room 2306, the “Ruby Bridges Room,” underwent restoration to match its original 1960s appearance to honor Ruby and her story. The school also uses Ruby’s story as an integral part of their curriculum and everyday learning.