Art and The Civil Rights Movement

Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With

Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With, painted in 1963, is considered an iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The painting depicts six year-old Ruby Bridges walking to school accompanied by four U.S. marshals. As part of desegregation, Ruby was the first African American student to attend the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

The fight for civil rights and desegregation was arduous and difficult. Many opposed desegregation during the 1960’s as Rockwell emphasizes in his painting. Across the wall is written a racial slur; a thrown tomato is on the ground near Ruby’s feet. Look at the painting closely online, or in person in Stockbridge, MA at the Norman Rockwell Museum, a community-based resource for learning more about Rockwell’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.

From what perspective does Rockwell choose to place the viewer? How are the U.S. marshals depicted? Why does he choose to paint them this way? Rockwell shows a stark contrast between Ruby Bridges’ innocence and the violence of the racist epithet on the wall and the red of the tomato splattered on the floor. Rockwell uses this visual contrast, coupled with the viewer’s perspective as a spectator, to emphasize the brutality of racism. Rockwell highlights how segregation and racist violence affects the young and innocent.


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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