september 1954

4

Black history month day 21: desegregation poster child Ruby Bridges.

Ruby Nell Bridges Hall was born September 8, 1954 in Tylertown, Mississippi. She is best known for being the first black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis in 1960.

The Bridges family moved to Mississippi when Ruby was four. When she was six, her parents responded to a proposal from the NAACP to participate in the integration of the New Orleans school system, despite hesitation from her father.

Bridges was one of six black children in New Orleans to pass the test that determined whether they could go to the all-white school, William Frantz Elementary. Two of the six decided to stay at their old school, and the other three were transferred to another district to integrate a different school, so Bridges went to William Frantz by herself. She and her mother had to be escorted to school by four federal marshals during her first year. One of the marshals later remarked: “She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we’re all very very proud of her.”

Though Bridges showed remarkable bravery for a six-year-old, situation was certainly not without its challenges. The marshals would only allow her to eat food brought from her home due to one woman’s repeated threats to poison her. Another woman stuck a black baby doll in a wooden coffin and held outside the school in protest. Bridges said later that that frightened her more than any of the things they shouted. She began the practice of praying while she walked, which helped her block out the nasty comments, and she also saw a child psychiatrist named Robert Coles who helped her cope. Only one teacher, Barbara Henry, agreed to teach Ruby and did so for over a year, teaching as though she was teaching the whole class.

Bridges still lives in New Orleans with her husband, Malcolm Hall, and their four sons. She is now chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, formed in 1999 to promote “the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences”. In describing the mission of her foundation, Bridges stated: “racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.”

Difficult relationship

Tove Jansson always saw herself as a painter first and foremost. It was what her education was based on and what she truly aspired to do. But as is common knowledge, art is not such an easy career. Especially during the war there was little interest in buying paintings. At the same time, her atelier was cold and bills were piling up. Tove wrote the first Moomin book both to escape the horrors of war but also so she might earn some extra money on the side. However, first two books The Moomins and the Great Flood (1945) and Comet in Moominland (1946) were not really successful.

Then her third book, Finn Family Moomintroll (1948) became a hit, especially in Sweden and Britain. A father and his two daughters visited her atelier to express their deep admiration. A small woman approached Tove in a store and told her that they were taking names in a petition to request a new Moomin book. Stockmann, a prestigious department store in Helsinki, wanted to publish a line of Moomin themed homeware. In 1952 Tove published The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My, which was considered a true piece of art.

Tove’s busiest time started when Moomin comics started appearing on The Evening News, an English magazine which was the biggest evening publication of it’s time. The first comic was published on September 20. 1954. Suddenly Tove had enough money to renovate her atelier and live a life where she did not need to count every penny. But the downside to that popularity was that everyone wanted a piece of the Moomins. Tove had to spend a lot of her time making business deals and overlooking contracts. She wrote to her friend Eva Konikoff, that politics had haunted the earlier part of her life. “Will it now be so that business, my second greatest dislike, is going to rule the later half?”

When Tove started drawing comics in 1954, she had been shown the desk of the man who worked there before her. “That man ended up in a mental institution.” Suddenly Tove realized why that had happened. Comics were consuming her. She almost felt hatred when she was drawing Moomins. Tove wanted to “bite candymakers, shock demanding parents and scream out loud in front of London men making deals.” Luckily, her brother Lars took over drawing the comics as suggested by their mother Ham. Tove was free. It is telling that her last comic was Moomin and The Golden Tail which handles themes like fame and hysteria over stuff.

Unfortunately devoting so much time for Moomins took it’s toll on Tove’s career as an artist. Fellow artists were jealous and openly declared that she had “sold her soul”. Some even said that she should drop out of the competition and quit painting altogether now that she was a wealthy writer. This naturally upset Tove a lot. She would have liked for people to see her more as a painter and less as a writer. Unfortunately, she could not change her public image. After dropping the comics Tove tried to focus on painting but ended up struggling with finding her style again. During 1970s it seems that Tove had dropped her dreams of being a painter. She held a lot less exhibitions as taking care of all Moomin business took most of her time.

Tove started letting go of Moomins very slowly. Her books became more mature and in the last novel, November in Moominvalley, Moomin family is not even present. In a way it was time to quit partially because she was growing tired, partially because her mother had died. Tove moved on and started writing novels for adults. Picture book The Dangerous Journey was the last Moomin book ever written and it’s style is very different from others. Once again, Moomin family itself barely appears. In her later years she was finally able to capture her passion for painting again when she and Tuulikki spent time in Paris. But writing always ruled her expression and painting had to step aside.