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Duncan, Ruby, 1932-


Ruby Duncan was born in Tallulah, Louisiana on June 7, 1932. Her parents passed away when Duncan was three years old and she spent the remainder of her youth living with various relatives in and around Tallulah. Duncan started work at the Ivory Plantation at an early age, only going to school part-time. She quit school to work full-time as a waitress and later a barmaid. Duncan left Tallulah for Las Vegas, Nevada in 1952 to live with her aunt near Henderson, Nevada.

Duncan’s early years in Las Vegas were spent as a maid, nanny, and kitchen worker in private homes and Las Vegas resorts and casinos including the Stardust, Flamingo, and Sahara. Her experience in these various positions, and being forced on-and-off welfare, led her to speak out against working conditions for those in similar positions. After a 1971 welfare cut for women with children in Nevada, Duncan’s social activism became a driving force in her life and led to the organization of public demonstrations, including two marches down the Las Vegas Strip that drew over six thousand people including celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Sammy Davis Jr., and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Duncan co-founded the organization Operation Life in 1972 to promote welfare reform, and to improve the lives of those who lived in West Las Vegas. Beginning with a library in West Las Vegas, their services grew to include promoting economic, housing, and job development, as well as operating a medical center and administering the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) certified home counseling program.

Duncan went on to serve in the Clark County Welfare Rights Organization, and her work and community activism is recognized by various awards and the naming of a North Las Vegas school in her in honor.

Duncan, Ruby. Interview, 2017 February 13 and March 2. African Americans in Las Vegas: A Collaborative Oral History Project. OH-00501. Transcript. Oral History Research Center, Special Collection and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. Accessed June 2019.

“Ruby Duncan.” Women in Nevada History: A Legacy Digital History Project. Accessed June 2019.

White, Claytee D. “Ruby Duncan (1932- ).” BlackPast, November 6, 2007. (Accessed June 2019).

Wanser, Brooke, “Pioneering Las Vegas activist Ruby Duncan, 5 others to be honored.” Review-Journal, February 3, 2017. (Accessed June 2019).