One passionate person can have enormous impact!
In 2004 ACLU of Nevada established a “Civil Libertarian of the Year Award” in honor of Emilie Wanderer – who spent her lifetime fighting for “justice and equality for all Nevadans” – as one of Nevada’s most ardent champions of civil liberties, rights for women, people of color, children, and others who often go unrepresented. Wanderer was one of the first women to pass the Nevada Bar and practice in Las Vegas. As such, she bravely defended African-American clients when taking such cases was extremely unpopular (and caused threats to her from her neighbors). Emilie Wanderer died in 2005 at the age of 102.
Newly appointed ACLU director, Tod Story, a resident of Nevada since 1984, served as District Director for U.S. Representative Shelley Berkley (D-NV) for 14 years and was Aide to U.S. Senator Richard Bryan (D-NV) prior to that. He holds a University of Nevada Las Vegas BFA in Communications and has extensively volunteered with community groups and non-profit organizations for many years.
Tod Story was pleased to present this year’s award to Ruby Duncan at a crowd-cheering celebration including many of her friends, family and co-organizers, in the tantalizing Springs Cafe (at the Preserve) as sun streamed through elegant wrap-around windows overlooking lush desert gardens while warm wishes and welcoming smiles made for a wonderful experience.
The “Civil Libertarian of the Year Award” is given by the ACLU of Nevada to individuals who “significantly contribute to protection and advancement of civil liberties in Nevada.” They presented this year’s Award on June 14, 2013 to Ms.Duncan
Ruby Duncan was born in 1932 in “backwoods” Louisiana to parents earning a back-breaking living working the cotton fields of Ivory Plantation. Her parents died before she was four years old.
In 1953 Ruby decided she had “enough of Tallulah” and moved to Las Vegas, Nevada to live with an aunt who was living in a cardboard shack and sharing a community washhouse and outhouse with other poor blacks. (Water was hauled there from Henderson — 10 miles away!)
She worked as a hotel maid until 1964 when she was fired for saying slavery was over and attempting to organize maids to protest the heavy workload
In 1969 she attended an ADC (Aid to Dependent Children) meeting to voice complaints about State Welfare. Willing to try anything, on April 4, 1969, she was involved with the first Nevada Welfare Demonstration. Ruby and other mothers marched in front of the State building followed by her speaking to the Legislature. Companions told her she had spoken “beautifully” about hunger and the plight of welfare children.
Ruby Duncan was then elected President of the Clark County Welfare Rights Organization. The result is history.
As President of CCWRO, Ruby led nationally publicized marches protesting the Welfare Department’s purge of thousands of needy families from welfare rolls. Ruby organized demonstrations, eat-ins, and two large marches on the Strip, famously shutting down Caesars Palace and other casinos.
In 1972, she founded Operation Life, a community-run anti-poverty non-profit organization, which brought important changes to West Las Vegas, including building a medical clinic and library; promoting economic development and education; creating housing and job training; and providing daycare for working mothers. Duncan served as Operation Life’s Executive Director until 1990. (It closed in 1992.)
McCall’s Magazine called her “first among women making a most significant contribution to our nation in 1971.”
Duncan continues to represent interests on local, state and national boards, commissions and agencies. It is difficult to understand where she gets stamina to attend all these meetings — yet attend she does!
Her strength and determination to realize “bread, justice and dignity for all” is why Ruby Duncan is loved and respected and is the namesake of a local school, among other recognitions, including this well-deserved ACLU award.
(Sources: ACLU press, Biography.com/RubyDuncan, and informal chat at the event).