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"Ruby's Shoes"

Original image
Getty Images

“Ruby’s Shoes”
Written by Lori McKenna (1989)
Performed by Lori McKenna

The Music

When singer-songwriter Lori McKenna’s son was in second grade, he did a book report on Ruby Bridges, the African-American elementary school student who famously crossed the desegregation lines in 1960.

To help her son, McKenna came up with a song about Ruby. “I actually wrote that for his extra credit,” McKenna said. “It was his oral presentation of that book report. He got an A, by the way. That song has just been so good to me, because I ended up meeting Ruby Bridges, and she came and met my kids.”

McKenna also got to play the song on Oprah in 2005, which made it a viral hit on iTunes, and brought attention to both McKenna and Bridges.

Here’s Lori McKenna’s recording of the song:

The History

Ruby Bridges was born in 1954, the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the decision that schools must desegregate. The ruling was made in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. Thirteen African-American parents in Topeka filed suit on behalf of their children, who were being made to travel extra miles just to attend their segregated schools. Of course, behind the practical matter of distance was the more urgent issue of civil rights.

For 60 years preceding the Brown case, segregation in schools in the U.S. had been informed by another Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson. That 1896 ruling held that as long as the separate facilities for separate races were equal, segregation didn’t violate the Fourteenth Amendment (“no State shall . . . deny any person . . the equal protection of the laws.”) But many of the facilities were not equal. Often, the black schools were housed in run-down buildings, and prone to regular shortages of everything from books to supplies to qualified teachers.

When Ruby Bridges was two, her parents moved the family from Mississippi to New Orleans, in search of better jobs. In 1959, Ruby started kindergarten in a segregated school. The Supreme Court ruling was still a year away from becoming law in Louisiana.

As she prepared to begin first grade, Ruby was one of six black children given the opportunity to attend an all-white school. In the end, she would be the only one who took the chance.

Educating Ruby

USMarshals.gov

Initially, Ruby’s parents disagreed on the matter. Ruby’s mother wanted her daughter to have the advantages that she never had. But with the opposition to desegregation roiling through the south, her father worried about endangering the family. Finally, he agreed that his daughter’s education should come first.

On the morning of November 14, 1960, Ruby and her mother approached William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. They were escorted by four Federal Marshals. Local police and officials had been unwilling to ensure Ruby’s safety. Crowds of protesters waved signs and chanted, “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate.”

Ruby didn’t realize that she was making history. She has said, “People were waving their hands and yelling. I remember police officers being on horseback and motorcycles. So I actually thought I was in the midst of a parade. I thought it was Mardi Gras that day.”

She spent most of that first day in the principal’s office, while chaos rippled around and through the school. Only one courageous and compassionate teacher in the school was willing to take her on as a student. So that year, Ruby was in a class of one with Mrs. Barbara Henry. They did lessons together and played games inside at recess. They bonded as student and teacher, and as friends.

Meanwhile, Ruby’s family suffered for their courage. Her dad lost his job. Her mom was shunned by some store owners. And her grandparents were evicted from a farm in Mississippi where they’d been sharecroppers for 25 years.

As time passed, desegregation became more accepted, and Ruby eventually graduated from a fully integrated high school in New Orleans.

Today, Ruby Bridges Hall is a civil rights icon and activist. She’s received a Presidential Citizen’s medal. There’s an elementary school named after her in California. And since 1999, she has run the Ruby Bridges Foundation, whose motto is: “We believe racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.”

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Courtesy of Freeman's
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History
For Sale: More Than 150 Items of Victorian Mourning Art, Clothing, and Jewelry
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Courtesy of Freeman's

Funeral fashion hasn't always been reserved for memorial services, judging from a massive memento mori auction that's being billed as perhaps the largest collection of mourning art ever offered for sale. Spotted by Atlas Obscura and sponsored by Philadelphia-based Freeman’s auction house, the online sale—which kicks off on Wednesday, November 15—features more than 150 works from a renowned private collection, ranging from clothing and jewelry to artworks.

During the Victorian era, people paid tribute to their loved ones by wearing black mourning garb and symbolic accessories. (The latter often featured jet or real locks of hair, according to a 2008 article published in the academic journal Omega.) They also commissioned death-themed artworks and objects, including paintings, as exhibited by Angus Trumble's 2007 book Love & Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria.

These items have long since fallen out of fashion, but some historic preservationists amassed their own macabre private collections. Anita Schorsch, who’s arguably the most famous collector of memento mori, used her historic treasures to launch the Museum of Mourning Art back in 1990. Located in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, the museum is—as its name suggests—the only institution in the nation devoted exclusively to mourning art. The museum has been closed since Schorsch's death in 2015, and the items featured in Freeman's auction are from her collection.

Check out some of its memento mori below, or view the online catalogue here.

Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Courtesy OF Freeman's


Hairwork shroud pin, 19th century, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's


18th century iron and brass cemetery padlock from London, England, part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
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History
Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

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