Ruby Duncan: The Activist
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Ed note: After President Bill Clinton signed a bill that “ended welfare as we know it” in 1996, major changes occurred in who could receive cash assistance and how states could spend their welfare money. We explore the uncertainties of welfare in the first season of The Uncertain Hour podcast. Along the way, we met a lot of people who changed, or were changed by, welfare.
In the 1960s, Ruby Duncan was a single mother living in Las Vegas. She worked hard as a hotel maid, housekeeper and cook, but she sporadically had to rely on welfare to support her seven children.
One day, Ruby was shopping at the grocery store, chatting with other mothers who were on welfare, when she discovered the white mothers were receiving larger benefit checks than the black mothers. The discrimination she saw in the welfare system launched her career as a welfare rights activist.
Ruby organized with other mothers. They protested; they demanded more job training; they worked with lawyers to file lawsuits demanding equal rights and equal treatment for black recipients. Similar movements were happening all across the country, and activists succeeded in opening up the welfare system to all people who qualified, nearly tripling the welfare rolls in the following years.
Hear more from Ruby in episode two of The Uncertain Hour: