The subtitle of this scholarly, substantial and informative biography, “George T. Ruby: Champion of Equal Rights in Reconstruction Texas,” focuses on the man as a Texas hero of consequence. But the text reveals his deep ties to Maine. Ruby was raised in Portland and was the first “colored” student to graduate from Portland High School.

Cover courtesy of Texas A&M University Press

A remarkable man, he was born into a leading, free-thinking African American family in 1841. He became a journalist, a Texas state senator and a spokesman for full racial equality in New England, Haiti, Louisiana and Texas, before, during and after the Civil War.

With his latest book, Carl H. Moneyhon, a University of Arkansas emeritus professor who has written seven previous books on Reconstruction, offers up the career and forgotten contributions of a long overlooked black champion.

Ruby “was not the traditional Texas Hero in the form of a frontiersman or cowboy,” Moneyhon writes. He goes on to prove through copious public documents and newspaper accounts that while Ruby faced violence and intimidation and confronted them, both directly or indirectly, he wasn’t a Django Unchained sort of hero.

“Men and women of his race saw him as an extraordinary spokesman for their interest,” Moneyhon writes. “His white allies also respected him for his contributions to their political agenda. Even his political enemies, except in the heat of political contest, at times recognized his accomplishments.”

Ruby proved himself a fearless truth seeker and truth speaker who braved harsh places to secure racial equality under the law. Articulate, handsome and well-educated, he built an enviable alliance of family, friends and associates of all backgrounds and colors that extended into the highest places of political and social power.

This is one of the best-documented, patiently constructed biographies of the era, reflecting Moneyhon’s deep understanding of the minutia and sweep of Reconstruction. Ruby was elected to the state senate in 1869 (he stayed until 1873) by white and black Galvestonians. He quickly positioned himself as the right-hand man of the first Reconstruction governor, Edmond J. Davis, and as the leading black politician of his day.

Earlier books of the Champions of Texas series focused on famous historical figures we’ve probably all heard of (for the cities named for them if nothing else) – men like Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin. For decades after the rise of Jim Crow revisionism and the fall of Reconstruction, white leaders regarded people like Ruby and Davis as carpetbaggers who contributed nothing to local laws. But Moneyhon unveils a documented record of accomplishments in the areas of equal rights, equal education and public safety for all citizens of Texas, rights which prevailed and provided hope for a few bright days.

Moneyhon credits historian Bob Greene – a journalist and Ruby descendant – for fleshing out Ruby’s early years in his book, “Maine Roots: The Manuel/Mathews/Ruby Family, A Family Affair” and other material. Another Ruby relative, Marita Mckenzie, had already preserved and organized family papers as part of the U.S. bicentennial.

For both his courage and his connections to people and organizations across the nation, Ruby seems in so many ways like a 1960s Freedom Rider. His activities and life, tragically cut short by yellow fever in 1882, deserve recognition and understanding – most especially right now.

William David Barry is a local historian who has authored/co-authored seven books, including “Maine: The Wilder Side of New England.” He is working on a history of the Maine Historical Society. He lives in Portland with his wife, Debra, and their cat, Nadine.


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