|Birth Date||June 7, 1932|
|Birth Place||Tallulah, Louisiana|
Ruby Duncan was born on a farm in the backwoods of Tallulah Louisiana on June 7, 1932. Her parents were poor, black, and earned their living by working in the cotton fields of the nearby Ivory Plantation.
Although Ruby began her life in the midst of the great Depression - - it had little effect upon her life. In black, rural Louisiana, people were already poor - - no one had money at any time.
The rural Louisiana area where Ruby grew up was lush, flat farmland. On their small farms, each family had their own garden which supplemented their meager incomes from the cotton fields provide their subsistence.
Ruby had three brothers and one sister, all except one dying in their youth from accidents or illnesses. Her parents were dead before she was four years old.
Ruby spent her youth living with various relatives in and around Tallulah. She and other black children worked in the fields of the Ivory Plantation (white owned and operated) from May through October of each year, and attended school from November through April. The school year for white children was September through June. The school for black children was located in a church on the Ivory Plantation, some eight miles from Tallulah and the children walked to school, no transportation was available. Ruby remembers seeing the white children riding a bus to their school, yet doesn't remember feeling bitter towards the dual, school system.
Ruby dropped out of school after completing the 9th grade to work full time. For several years she worked as a waitress and barmaid with her income finally reaching $9.50 per week for an 80-hour week. Meanwhile, one of her Aunts had moved to Las Vegas, Nevada and wrote Ruby about the high wages, her Aunt was working in a laundry and making less than $40.00 per week!
In 1953 Ruby decided she had enough of the low wages in Tallulah and moved to Las Vegas to live with her Aunt. She found her Aunt living in a cardboard shack in the desert, east of Las Vegas sharing a community washhouse and outhouse with other poor blacks. Water had to be hauled from Henderson, a 10-mile distance. In 1953, Las Vegas a segregated community by practice if not by law. While there was no dual school system, housing, patterns and school zones resulted in school segregation at the elementary level. Although "whites only" signs were not posted in public places blacks were not welcome as patrons in the Strip hotels, and there were "colored" sections designated in the movie theatres.
Ruby did day work as a maid in private homes. Her turn as a hotel maid came up in 1959 in which she worked as a hotel maid until 1964 she was fired for alleging, "slavery was over" and attempting to organize other maids to protest the heavy workload.
For a while, her only income for herself and her children was the Aid to Dependent Children grant she received from State Welfare System. She walked the streets trying to get a job and finally was hired to work in the pantry of one of the Strip hotels. After several years on that job she slipped and fell and was disable for a year. After her recovery she learned she could no longer do the heavy work she had done all her life, she began Pressing State Welfare for job training to get off welfare. She was then enrolled in a federal program designed to meet those goals when State Welfare inexplicably terminated the program.
Unhappy about the cancellation of the job training and education program, she was contacted in March of 1969 to attend a meeting of ADC mothers, she gladly attended to voice her complaints about State Welfare. At the meeting, she learned that the mothers wanted to send some representatives to the Nevada State Legislature meeting in Carson City to protest the low welfare grants. Ruby remembers that she didn't know what a "Legislature" was but she knew she and the other mothers couldn't make it on what they were receiving and she was, willing to try anything to increase, their grants.
On April 4, 1969, Nevada had its first welfare "Demonstration." Ruby and, two other mothers marched in front of the State building in Carson City protesting Nevada's low ADC grants. Inside, she attended A hearing of the welfare committee and when it became obvious that no one was going to speak for the needs of the recipients the two women with her urged Ruby to speak to the committee. Having no previous experience at public speaking. Ruby was extremely nervous and her mind went blank. She was not aware that she had finished speaking when she heard the loud applause of the audience. Her companions told her that she had spoke "Beautifully" on the hunger and plight of welfare children.
At the meeting of the welfare mothers following her return from Carson City, Ruby Duncan was elected President of the Clark County Welfare Rights Organization. The result is history. As President of CCWRO Ruby led the nationally publicized welfare marches on the glittering Las Vegas Strip in 1971 protesting the Welfare Department purge of thousands of needy families from the welfare rolls.
In 1971 McCall's named her first among women making the most significant contribution to our nation in that year.
From Ruby's concern for the health and welfare of poor people in Clark County sprang the idea of Operation Life, of which she is Executive Director. Operation Life was formed to provide survival needs - - food, shelter, health services, education and economic development - - for the poverty community of Clark County. Some of her accomplishments have been the success of Operation Life in the past years in which a health screening center, a library, free food program for women, infants and children, a child care center and a public swimming pool.
To the poverty community of Clark County, Ruby Duncan represents hope for needy families. She represents their interests on many local, state and national boards, commissions and agencies that it is difficult to understand where she gets the physical stamina let alone the time, to attend all the meetings - - but she does attend. Her very strength and determination to see her goals of bread, justice and dignity, or all actually realized is the reason Ruby Duncan is loved and respected by those who have the privilege to work with her in the struggle.