Walking girl to school — and into history

GLASGOW — The Norman Rockwell print titled "The Problem We All Live With" features a small, black girl walking between four very tall men.

The little girl was Ruby Nell Bridges, the first black student to attend a white school in New Orleans, in 1960.

The legs of the man on the far right side walking behind Bridges belong to Jesse Grider, one of four U.S. marshals ordered to escort the kindergartner and her family the five blocks from their home to the William Frantz School.

Originally from Glasgow, Grider was honored on Veterans Day for his service as a U.S. marshal and with a Kentucky National Guard unit during the Korean War. A special ceremony was held at the South Central Kentucky Cultural Center.

"It's quite an honor. I think I told someone I've been recognized by about three attorney generals in the United States and the president of the United States, but this means as much to me as any of them. This is my hometown and always will be," he said.

Since that day in New Orleans, Grider has been back to visit with Bridges twice.

"I went back to see her maybe 15 years ago. A U.S. attorney in New Orleans called me and wanted to know if I would come back and meet with her and I did," he said.

Grider recalled what Bridges said to him upon seeing him for the first time after all those years.

"The first thing she said was, 'You looked a lot taller than you are.' I said, 'Well, when you were six years old I looked pretty tall to you.'"

Grider spent some time during that visit talking to Bridges' mother, Lucille.

"I always said all along that her mother had more guts than all of us for putting her kids in that kind of program. She knew it was the right thing to do, but she had a lot of guts to do it because you won't believe how upset those people were in New Orleans. It was tough," he said.

Grider was one of 10 U.S. marshals selected to take Bridges to school.

"We had about 600 marshals in town," he said.

The second time he saw Bridges was about nine years ago when he went back to New Orleans for Black History Week.

Glasgow City Councilman Doug Isenberg hoped to reunite the two again, but attempts to contact Bridges were unsuccessful.

It was Isenberg's idea to honor Grider. He saw a segment on ABC's Good Morning America about Bridges and Grider in 2000.

"I thought the city of Glasgow needs to honor Jess Grider," he said.

But planning for the event never got off the ground until this year when Isenberg ran into Grider's niece in Glasgow.

The niece put Isenberg in touch with her aunt who helped organize the event, which was attended by about 100 people.

Grider received several certificates, including a Kentucky Colonel, the key to the city of Glasgow, an honorary sheriff's badge and a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol.

Grider's family was on hand for the event. His son, John, said he was "equally honored."

"He's always just been my dad, but to hear other people's view of him and hear third-party stories, it really gives me another view of the man he is," he said. "I've always just known him as dad, but he's much more than that. I'm proud to be his son."