The story behind that viral image of Kamala Harris and activist Ruby Bridges

"We hoped it would inspire young women," artist Bria Goeller says of the design showing Harris casting the shadow of iconic activist Ruby Bridges.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
3 min read

Artist Bria Goeller worked with T-shirt company Good Trubble to create this image of Kamala Harris casting the shadow of iconic activist Ruby Bridges. The image exploded in popularity when Harris was declared vice president-elect.

Bria Goeller

Two generations of trailblazing women come together in an image that went viral over the weekend. The artwork shows Vice President-elect Kamala Harris dressed in dark suit and heels, carrying a black bag and striding purposefully ahead past a wall. But when you look again, you see the shadow Harris casts on the wall isn't her own, but that of Ruby Bridges, who was just 6 years old in 1960 when she integrated the previously all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

The message is immediately clear: Harris didn't get to the White House alone. Her path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was carved over decades by those, like Bridges, who fought for civil rights. And San Francisco artist Bria Goeller says she is "floored by the sensation (the image) has become."

The shadow of little Bridges, with her distinctive braid and elegant dress, is so recognizable because it's mimicking how iconic artist Norman Rockwell painted her in his 1964 Look magazine illustration, The Problem We All Live With. That image shows four US marshals escorting Bridges to school past a wall that's scrawled with a racial slur and drips with a thrown tomato. Bridges' mother, Lucille, 86, who walked with the marshals and her daughter to the school every day, died on Tuesday.


Artist Bria Goeller worked with the owner of T-shirt company Good Trubble to create the image of Kamala Harris and Ruby Bridges.

Bria Goeller

"The design symbolizes two powerful women in history who overcame the odds and stood with strength against everyone who didn't want to see them to succeed," Goeller said in an email. 

Goeller created the image along with the owner of Good Trubble, a Black-owned Bay Area business that creates political satirical designs. (The business owner, Gordon, did not want to share his last name.) It's available on shirts sold at the company's site and may eventually be sold as a print. Goeller says a good portion of the proceeds will also be donated to charity, although details are still being worked out.

"We tag-teamed the idea, and the inspiration is as much (Gordon's) as it is mine," Goeller said. "Gordon describes Ruby Bridges and Kamala Harris as inspirations. He's lived long enough to see this type of history unfold firsthand. We hoped it would inspire young women, young activists -- and hopefully make people smile."

The two seem to have created plenty of inspiration and smiles. The design was first shared in October, but really took off after Harris and President-Elect Joe Biden's victory was announced on Saturday.

Ruby Bridges herself, now 66 and an activist and author, shared Goeller's image on her own Instagram account on Saturday, and praised Goeller and Good Trubble.

"I am honored to be a part of this path and grateful to stand alongside you, together with our fellow Americans, as we step into this next chapter of American history," Bridges wrote, tagging Harris and Biden. 

Goeller, who herself grew up in Louisiana, and was "in awe" of Bridges as a child, was touched by the acknowledgement.

"I'm more than honored to be a tiny part of this beautiful historic moment, and that Ruby Bridges herself thanked us," she said. "This particular design is about social change -- way bigger than me."

Lucille Bridges' death came just a few days after the election results was officially called for Biden and Harris. 

"Today our country lost a hero," Ruby Bridges wrote on Instagram of her mother. "Brave, progressive, a champion for change. She helped alter the course of so many lives by setting me out on my path as a 6-year-old little girl. Our nation lost a mother of the civil rights movement today. And I lost my mom. I love you and am grateful for you. May you rest in peace."

New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell wrote on Facebook that it was Lucille Bridges who was the guiding force in Ruby's integration of the school, "seeing the action as an opportunity to help all Black children."