Remembering Ruby forgetting Frantz : civil rights memory, education reform, and the struggle for social justice in New Orleans public schools, 1960-2014
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This project is an interdisciplinary exploration of the national memory of school integration and its stakes for evolving education reform movements, grounded in a case study of Ruby Bridges and the William Frantz School. In 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges embarked on a struggle to integrate William Frantz Elementary in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Her harrowing ordeal captured the hearts of the nation and transformed Bridges into a powerful icon of the civil rights movement. Today, a statue of Bridges honors that history in the courtyard of the Frantz building, but Frantz Elementary itself closed in 2005 after years of failing to meet state standards. The historic Frantz building now houses Akili Academy, one of the many charter schools around which the New Orleans public school system was remade in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This project brings together cultural memory studies, childhood studies, education history, and education policy to chart an evolving popular memory of Ruby Bridges and the Frantz School against the backdrop of shifting tides of education reform in New Orleans from integration to the charter school takeover. I trace the construction of Ruby Bridges as an icon of the civil rights movement, and examine how the history and memory of Bridges and the Frantz School have been mobilized by various stakeholders in the years after 1960. I aim to highlight what is erased and obscured in dominant narratives of both the individual and the institution, to engage with alternative interpretations of that history, and to trace the connections between the popular memory of social justice movements, local education histories, and evolving education reform agendas. Ultimately, this project sheds light on the place of the past in competing visions for the future of New Orleans public schools.