Family diversity

Times columnist Marc Chase credits the social acceptance of his diverse family to civil rights pioneers like Ruby Bridges.

It's a common question I hear regarding my not altogether common — but not entirely unusual — family makeup.

"When you're out and about with your kids, do you get strange looks from people?"

My wife and I have heard the question plenty for nearly five years regarding our diverse household. Our two oldest children happen to be white. Our two youngest are black and came to our family through the wonders of adoption.

It's only natural for some folks to view my family with an inquisitive eye.

But whenever folks ask me about the strange or questioning looks we might receive, the story of a little girl named Ruby Bridges comes into focus.

Ruby's story hits close to home because my daughter, Izzy, is not much different in age than when Ruby became a titan of the civil rights movement.

It also makes me grateful for the evolution American culture has experienced since then.

At age 6, Ruby endured a whole lot more than strange looks in 1960 when she performed what should have been the innocent act of walking into school.

It was an era in which much of our society believed blacks and whites should attend separate schools, use different restrooms and water fountains and assume segregated seats on public buses.

But times were changing. Courts were beginning to rule against school segregation, and Ruby became the first black child to attend what had been an all-white elementary school in Louisiana.

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With her chin up and flanked by security, the little girl faced angry slurs, thrown debris and and a slew of parents who pulled their white children from the school when Ruby arrived for her first day of first grade.

Former U.S. Deputy Marshal Charles Burks, who escorted Ruby to school that day, would recall, "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."

It's difficult to imagine a young child today facing such belligerence simply based on the hue of her skin.

Ruby absorbed it all. Her first steps into the school in the face of ugliness were among the first steps of our society toward a sort of enlightenment.

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Our nation is far from a racial utopia. Racism, racial unrest and violence based on skin color still explode in ugly physical or verbal displays.

But in so many ways, our society also has evolved.

Northwest Indiana, in all its grand diversity, rarely exhibits "a strange look" toward a family made up of two white parents and four children, two of whom happen to be white and two of whom happen to black.

There are many people to thank for this social openness that becomes more the norm by the day, and Ruby Bridges is certainly one of them.

As a 6-year-old black girl in an era of intense racial volatility, Ruby bravely pushed our society toward a greater enlightenment.

She did the unusual so that nearly six decades later an integrated society — including integrated families — could be a whole lot more usual.

Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.