Oil on canvas
91 cm × 150 cm (36 in × 58 in)
Private collection, Norman Rockwell Museum
Norman Rockwell artwork, Artwork at Norman Rockwell Museum, History paintings
Painting tour the problem we all live with 1964
The Problem We All Live With is a 1964 painting by Norman Rockwell. It is considered an iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. It depicts Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African-American girl, on her way to William Frantz Elementary School, an all-white public school, on November 14, 1960, during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis. Because of threats and violence against her, she is escorted by four deputy U.S. marshals; the painting is framed such that the marshals' heads are cropped at the shoulders. On the wall behind her is written the racial slur "nigger" and the letters "KKK"; a smashed and splattered tomato thrown against the wall is also visible. The white protesters are not visible, as the viewer is looking at the scene from their point of view. The painting is oil on canvas and measures 36 inches (91 cm) high by 58 inches (150 cm) wide.
The painting was originally published as a centerfold in the January 14, 1964 issue of Look. Rockwell had ended his contract with the Saturday Evening Post the previous year due to frustration with the limits the magazine placed on his expression of political themes, and Look offered him a forum for his progressive social interests, including civil rights and racial integration. Rockwell explored similar themes in Southern Justice (Murder in Mississippi) and New Kids in the Neighborhood; unlike his previous works for the Post, The Problem We All Live With and these others place black people as sole protagonists, instead of as observers, part of group scenes, or in servile roles. Like New Kids in the Neighborhood, The Problem We All Live With depicts a black child protagonist; like Southern Justice, it uses strong light-dark contrasts to further its racial theme.
At Bridges' suggestion, President Barack Obama had the painting installed in the White House, in a hallway outside the Oval Office, from July to October 2011. Art historian William Kloss stated, "The N-word there – it sure stops you. There’s a realistic reason for having the graffiti as a slur, [but] it’s also right in the middle of the painting. It’s a painting that could not be hung even for a brief time in the public spaces [of the White House]. I’m pretty sure of that."
In the FX cable television channel series The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story in 2016, the painting was used to "dress" the Simpson house by defense attorney Johnnie Cochran before a tour of the house by the jury during the 1995 murder trial.