By Caroline Jones, Library Assistant
On April 26, 1870 George T. Ruby signed his oath to serve as a state senator, surpassing racial barriers as one of Texas’s first African-American politicians.
Born in New York in 1841, Ruby moved to Galveston in 1866 to work for the Freedmen’s Bureau. While in Galveston he established the city’s first Labor Union of Colored Men. With a liberal arts education under his belt and experience as president of the Union League, Ruby quickly made a name for himself in Galveston and was elected as delegate to the Republican national convention in 1868. He served as the only African-American within the Texas delegation. In this same year he served as one of only ten African-American delegates to Texas’s Constitutional Convention. By 1869, Ruby was elected state senator from the Twelfth District representing Galveston, Brazoria, and Matagorda counties. This is particularly noteworthy as this was a predominantly white district at the time.
Ruby served in the 12th and 13th Texas Legislatures, from 1870 to 1871 and in 1873 respectively. As state senator Ruby served on the judiciary, militia, education, and state affairs committees. Bills he introduced successfully incorporated the Galveston and El Paso, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio, and the Galveston, Houston and Tyler railroads, as well as the Harbor Trust Company and several insurance companies. Bills he introduced also provided for geological and agricultural survey of the state. Due to a changing political climate in which the Democratic Party dominated the senate, Ruby chose not to seek reelection and finished his term in 1873. He spent the rest of his life in New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite his brief time as senator, Ruby is remembered by some historians as “the most important black politician in Texas during Reconstruction in terms of his power and ability” (tshaonline). His political passion enabled him to exceed racial expectations and provided opportunities for African-American laborers in Galveston and across the state. Ruby is prominently featured in TSLAC’s own “Forever Free” online exhibit as well as our “Texas Treasures” online exhibit.
Ruby’s oath of office is part of our Secretary of State Bonds and Oaths collection. The records were originally transferred to TSLAC by the Texas Secretary of State on an unknown date and reaccessioned in January of 2012. According to the finding aid, Archivist Tony Black discovered this set of records among unprocessed records of the Texas Adjutant General’s Department in November of 1986 and determined they were actually part of the Secretary of State bonds and oaths. The oaths and physical card catalogs from this collection have also been digitized and are available through Ancestry.com.
Texas Secretary of State bonds and oaths Finding Aid: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/30194/tsl-30194.html#series3
Handbook of Texas Online article: https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fru02
Forever Free: Nineteenth Century African-American Legislators and Constitutional Convention Delegates of Texas online exhibit: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/forever/index.html
Early African-American Senators section of the Texas Treasures online exhibit: