|George Thompson Ruby|
|Texas State Senator from District 12 (Brazoria, Galveston, and Matagorda Counties)|
February 8, 1870 – January 13, 1874
|Succeeded by||Benjamin Cromwell Franklin|
|Died||October 31, 1882
New Orleans, Louisiana
George Thompson Ruby (1841-1882) was a prominent black Republican leader in Reconstruction-era Texas. Born in New York and raised in Portland, Maine, he worked in Boston and Haiti before starting teaching in New Orleans, Louisiana before the end of the American Civil War.
Moving to Galveston, Texas in 1866, where he worked as an agent for the Freedmen's Bureau, Ruby also organized for the new Republican Party. He served as one of ten African Americans elected to the 1868-69 state constitutional convention, in the Texas senate, and as a delegate to two Republican Party national conventions. At the first he was the only African American delegate from Texas. He also was active with labor unions, founding and serving as president of the Texas Colored Labor Convention. He earned a reputation as an educator of Louisiana blacks, returning to New Orleans in 1874 after the white Democratic takeover of the Texas government. He worked as a journalist in that city.
Ruby was born in New York City in 1841. His parents were probably the Rev. Ebenezer Ruby and Jemima Ruby, though their son would claim that his father was an aristocratic white man. He was visibly of mixed race.
Ruby grew up as a child with his family just outside Portland, Maine, where he had his schooling. Moving to Boston as a young man in 1860, he was hired as a correspondent on the Pine and Palm, run by James Redpath, and sent as a correspondent to Haiti. Redpath's journal supported a movement encouraging African-American colonization in Haiti (which the government there encouraged.) American migrants suffered from the poor economy and the plan was considered a failure in 1862. Ruby returned that year to the United States.
In January 1864, Ruby moved to Louisiana and began teaching school. First he taught in a Baptist church in New Orleans and then, as the Union occupation force expanded its educational efforts into the hinterland, in St. Bernard's Parish. The army dropped its responsibility for schooling at the war's end. The American Missionary Association needed teachers, and Ruby worked for them in New Orleans. When the Freedmen's Bureau schools started up, he was hired to teach there. In 1866, he went to Jacksboro in East Feliciana Parish to open a Bureau school there. A white mob attacked him and tried to drive him out.
In September 1866, with Louisiana schools shutting down for lack of funding, Ruby left for Texas. The Freedmen's Bureau agent assigned him as agent and teacher in Galveston. (This was not unusual; many black teachers with experience in Louisiana migrated to Texas, where their past association ensured that they had colleagues in their new surroundings). Working to set up and run schools for blacks, Ruby also helped organize local chapters of the Union League on which mobilization for the newly created Republican party would depend. In 1868, he was elected the League's first state president, a powerful political position. Later that year, he was the first African-American from Texas to attend the Republican National Convention. In time he became editor of the Galveston Standard. Like many Republican papers, it had a brief life.
Provisional Governor Elisha M. Pease appointed Ruby as a notary public in Galveston. When elections took place for delegates to a state constitutional convention in 1868, Ruby was chosen for the district comprising Brazoria, Galveston, and Matagorda counties. He was one of ten African Americans elected as delegates. He allied with the more radical end of the party. Deeply disturbed by the conservative compromises that made it into the final document, Ruby worked for some months to have it defeated or rejected by the national government. In the end, he accepted it as the best that could be done, if a Republican government was to survive at all. He believed that equal rights for blacks in Texas depended on a Republican government.
Although discussed as a possible running-mate for Republican gubernatorial nominee Edmund J. Davis, Ruby was far younger at age 28 than would have been the norm. In addition, Republicans were reluctant to nominate a black candidate, because of the risk of driving away white votes. Blacks were a minority statewide. In 1870, he was first elected to the Texas Senate in a very close vote, where he served two terms, in 1870-71 and again in 1873. He pressed hard for bills protecting the freedpeople's civil rights, including a measure opening public conveyances to all, regardless of race—a bill that white members made sure never came to a vote. At the same time, with an eye to his largely white constituency, Ruby introduced bills supporting construction of railroads radiating from Galveston, including several transcontinental projects such as the Southern Pacific and the International & Great Northern. Railroad aid was not a win-win deal; money or lands appropriated to help out their projects came at the expense of other needs of the state, such as a well-financed public school system. He served as a delegate to two Republican Party national conventions, the first time as the only African American from Texas.
He was also appointed as a customs officer in Galveston in 1869. With close connections to labor organizations in Galveston and as president of the Texas Colored Labor Convention in 1869, Ruby had influence far beyond Galveston. He also helped black workers gain jobs at the Galveston docks after 1870. One historian called Ruby, "the most important black politician in Texas during Reconstruction in terms of power and ability."
He had an ability to mobilize Republican voters along the Gulf Coast and black voters everywhere in Texas. "In the post-Civil War era no black man in Texas exercised more political power than did George Thompson Ruby," Moneyhon wrote. "An astute politician, Ruby built a base of power in the black community of Galveston, then used that support to make himself a major force in the state at large. He was a forceful advocate of civil and political rights for his race, but he knew when to compromise to gain his larger goals, and he moved carefully among hostile white politicians in his efforts to expand opportunities for black people."
Return to Louisiana and journalism
With the return of the Democrats to power in 1874, Ruby left Texas and returned to Louisiana. He found work on the New Orleans Louisianian, a black Republican newspaper edited by Louisiana's former lieutenant-governor, Pinckney B. S. Pinchback. He gained a job in the New Orleans custom-house, but Ruby's main occupation was newspaper work. He worked with Pinchback's paper until 1878. That year he became editor of the New Orleans Observer, a paper which he established, operating it through the 1880 election. After its demise, he began another, the New Orleans Republic.
In the late 1870s, Ruby became a strong supporter of the Exoduster movement. It supported the voluntary migration of freedmen from the Deep South to Kansas, in order to escape segregation, violence and white supremacy.
- "The 1860s: George T. Ruby", Forever Freedom exhibit, Texas State Library and Archives, 2017
- Carl H. Moneyhon, "George T. Ruby and the Politics of Expediency in Texas," in Howard N. Rabinowitz, ed., Southern Black Leaders of the Reconstruction Era (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 363.
- Moneyhon, "George T. Ruby and the Politics of Expediency in Texas," p. 364.
- Eric Foner, Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1996), 187
- Moneyhon, "George T. Ruby and the Politics of Expediency in Texas," pp 370-71.
- Moneyhon, "George T. Ruby and the Politics of Expediency in Texas," pp 380-82.
- Eric Foner, Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1996), 187.
- Moneyhon, "George T. Ruby and the Politics of Expediency in Texas," p. 363.
- Moneyhon, "George T. Ruby and the Politics of Expediency in Texas," p 363.
- Crouch, Barry A. "Black Education in Civil War and Reconstruction Louisiana: George T. Ruby, the Army, and the Freedmen's Bureau." Louisiana History 38.3 (1997): 287-308. in JSTOR
- Foner, Eric. Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1996)
- Moneyhon, Carl H. "George T. Ruby and the Politics of Expediency in Texas," in Howard N. Rabinowitz, ed., Southern Black Leaders of the Reconstruction Era (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982).
- Woods, Randall B. "George T. Ruby: A Black Militant in the White Business Community." Red River Valley Historical Review 1 (1974): 269-280.