‘I wouldn’t miss meeting an icon of history’

By on December 31, 2022

Civil Rights icon Ruby Bridges greets attendees at her Friday night book-signing at Island Bookstore in Corolla. (Photos by Corinne Saunders)
Bridges and Elyse Monroe, a Manteo High School senior, smile after Bridges signed a copy of her newest book. (Photos by Corinne Saunders)
Bridges signs a school project a young lady brought that she'd saved from elementary school. (Photos by Corinne Saunders)
Three sisters look at Bridges in awe as she signs books for them. (Photos by Corinne Saunders)
Bridges shakes hands with local artist James Melvin, who unveiled a painting he made of her last month in his studio in Nags Head. (Photos by Corinne Saunders)
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Ruby Bridges book signing in Corolla draws hundreds

Hundreds of people—including teachers, students, parents and grandparents—converged on the Island Bookstore in Corolla on Friday night, Dec. 30, to have civil rights icon Ruby Bridges sign copies of her books. Everyone waited patiently, many for more than an hour and some through a bout of sprinkling rain.

Keeping a steady smile, Bridges invited each attendee to take a photograph with her—her longtime friend Miles Daniels of Wanchese was by her side, taking photos for people and keeping the line flowing. Organizers estimate that nearly 500 attendees were on hand.

Bridges signed copy after copy of any of her three books people handed her, or, sometimes, school posterboard projects or essays attendees had written about her when they were young. She often inquired how old children were, or how they pronounced their names. One young girl offered a present to Bridges—an oyster shell she found, painted and put in a shiny red box.

Bridges integrated a former all-white elementary school in New Orleans as a first grader in 1960. She has authored three children’s books that share autobiographical tendencies. Her first, “Through My Eyes,” was published in 1999, and her most recent, “I Am Ruby Bridges,” was published just months ago, in September 2022. In her 2020 book, “This is Your Time,” she wrote to the “Young Peacemakers of the World” with a reminder that enacting change is not easy.

As a young child integrating public schools in New Orleans, Bridges was forced to endure protesters who screamed and threw things at her. Parents withdrew their children from her classroom. White teachers quit rather than educate a Black child. Bridges’ first-grade teacher ended up coming from Boston and teaching Bridges in a classroom—alone—that school year.

As they waited for Bridges on Friday night, more than 100 people were already in line at the Island Bookstore before the 6 p.m. book signing. The event was slated to end at 8 p.m., but after that time, the line still snaked through the bookstore, down the sidewalk and around the bookstore parking lot.

One young woman from Moyock said she arrived at the bookstore before 4:30 p.m. and brought a personal letter she wrote to Bridges, describing how she’d impacted her life. “I’m here because when I was in the first grade, I read the book about Ruby Bridges, and it just stuck with me,” said Ruby Jackson, 22. “Because at the time, I was the only African-American student in my class; and I was able to learn about a six-year-old girl that was the same as me, and…about the struggles that she was going through.”

As an adult, Bridges has toured schools nationally and globally to share her story, love and encouragement with children.

“The Outer Banks has been a special place for me since my first visit,” Bridges said in a press release announcing the Corolla book signing. “I am grateful for the opportunity to share my story with the bright young thinkers and leaders in this beautiful part of the country as we continue our work to positively impact the hearts and minds of our nation’s youth.”

The signing had been pushed back a week because of weather concerns, from Dec. 23 to Dec. 30. Scott Russell, called it “serendipity” that he and his wife, Amanda Russell, could attend, as they were on vacation from Pennsylvania.

“She’s been my hero since as long as I can remember, and we just happened to be here and happened to see the sign was here, and made it happen,” Amanda Russell said, her eyes brimming with tears. She’d learned of Bridges as a child from seeing the Disney movie, “Ruby Bridges,” and said seeing her in person was “just amazing…astounding.”

Others weren’t as sure who Bridges was.

“Is she really the girl in the [Norman] Rockwell picture?” one man asked his neighbors in line.

Rockwell famously depicted the six-year-old Bridges being escorted to school by federal marshals in his 1964 painting titled, “The Problem We All Live With.”

Many attendees were awestruck to see Bridges face to face.

“I’m going to try not to cry, because I’ve already gotten teary about it,” Lynn Brown said as she waited in line. She was vacationing from Mount Airy with her husband and three children.

A speech language pathologist for pre-K through second-grade students, Brown said she curated a diverse school library because of how important that is and reads Bridges’ books to her students.

“She’s old enough to be my mother, [but] just thinking like, as a mom…what she’s been through…how impactful that is,” Brown said, shaking her head in amazement.

Lynda Mastronardo said she and her 13-year-old son drove an hour and 40 minutes to attend the event from their home in Columbia.

“I work at Tyrrell County Public Library and I homeschool, so this is going to be our history lesson, and I’m also getting a book signed for the library,” Mastronardo said. “I wouldn’t miss meeting an icon of history for anything.”

“Ruby is so gracious to come and spend her time with us,” said Susan Sawin, who has owned the Island Bookstore locations for two years. Sawin noted that Friday’s turnout was much higher than anticipated.

“We ordered a couple hundred books and ran out before the original date,” she said. They ordered more, sold all those and were selling bookplates Friday night for Bridges to sign for copies yet to be ordered.

Twiddy & Company sponsored the event and also sponsors Corolla Christmas Village, with an elaborate outdoors lights display.

Company President Clark Twiddy said in a Voice interview that he sat down with Bridges in a Corolla house after George Floyd’s murder in 2020 and had a frank discussion about race and the racial history of the United States that he’ll forever rank in the top three conversations of his life.

“I will say with no hyperbole, she is the strongest life force I’ve ever met,” Twiddy said.

“She’s this really interesting combination of steel and grace, and I think she would attribute that to her faith,” he continued. “When you walk into the room where she is, you just feel like there’s a remarkable person here.”




See what people are saying:

  • Beulah Charity Ashby

    I was so impressed by Ruby Bridges, being a year older than she is I was amazed by her grace and serenity . I was so amazed by her parents and all they lost because of the stance they took to give their child the best education possible. I’ll bed her life’s story and look at what she has done for all the children of color. Thank you and I was so happy to get to personally meet you.

    Saturday, Dec 31 @ 3:14 pm