Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


American Studies

Reader 1

Julia Liss

Reader 2

Wendy Cheng


In 1960, when Ruby Bridges was six-years-old, she desegregated the formerly all white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana. This thesis traces her formation as a Civil Rights icon and how her icon narratives are influenced by, perpetuate, or challenge hegemonic memory of the Civil Rights Movement. The hegemonic narrative situates the Civil Rights Movement as a triumphant moment of the past, and is based upon the belief that it abolished institutionalized racism, leaving us in a world where lingering prejudice is the result of the failings of individuals. Analysis of narratives about Ruby Bridges by Norman Rockwell, Robert Coles, and Bridges herself show that there is a consistent shift over time in which the icon narratives conform to and reinforce the hegemonic narrative. These icon narratives situate Bridges’ story as a historical account of the past that teaches lessons of how to combat instances of interpersonal racism through kindness and tolerance, and obscures Bridges’ lived experience. These reductive stories demonstrate just how powerful the hegemonic narrative is and create a comforting morality tale that pervades dominant culture and prevents us from understanding and finding ways to combat the institutionalized racism and inequality that still exists within the United States.