September 24, 2023

Know Your History: George T. Ruby

 There are so many African Americans who fought for our advancement in the Texas political arena, and we won’t stop until you get to know them all. Learn about George Thompson Ruby in this week’s “Know Your History.”

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 teaching in New Orleans, Louisiana before the end of the American Civil War.

In September 1866, with Louisiana schools shutting down for lack of funding, Ruby left for Galveston, Texas where the Freedmen’s Bureau agent assigned him as an agent and teacher. Working to set up and run schools for Blacks, Ruby 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 10 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. 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.”

With the return of the Democrats to power in 1874, Ruby left Texas and returned to Louisiana. Ruby died on October 31,1882 of malaria at his home on Euterpe Street, New Orleans.



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