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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

SUTTON, Ruby. (Louisiana, 1932--Dubuque, IA, Sept. 18, 2015). Sutton became one of Dubuque's most often identified activists for racial understanding. Born in Louisiana, Sutton grew up in Lexington, Mississippi. She and her husband, James, moved to Chicago in the early 1950s where he had a job with the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD as a repairman. He was transferred to Galena, Illinois and then Dubuque in 1959. They were then one of five African American families in the city. (1)

She began her work in the community in the early 1970s as a volunteer with River Valley, Inc., an agency involved with the war on poverty. Later she was an employee of the agency and its successor, Operation New View. She retired from Operation: New View in 2009 after thirty-six years. She began their "Coats for Kids" program. (2) Sutton directed the Washington Opportunity Center in Dubuque and similar agencies in Delaware and Jackson counties. (3)

Among Sutton's volunteer efforts in Dubuque included activity with the Dubuque Housing and Realtors Board, Correctional Services Advisory Board, Consortium on Aging Network, Equal Opportunity Commission, Teenage Pregnancy Task Force, and the YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (Y.W.C.A.). As a member of the Dubuque Human Rights Commission for twenty-five years, she fought to remove Clarence W. "Rainbow" DUFFY for printing ethnic and racial jokes in a neighborhood newsletter. (4)

Sutton's efforts to combat racism included membership in the Urban Potential Committee that brought Reverend C. T. Vivian from Georgia to deliver seminars on racial issues. Sutton also participated in the Equity Education Committee of the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT that worked toward the development of a cross-cultural curriculum. She was actively involved with the Dubuque Community Food Pantry, Dubuque Area Congregations United, Project Concern, Dubuque Dispute Resolution Center, Dubuque Community Schools Education Advisory Committee and the Mercy Medical Center Institutional Ethics Committee. (5)

In 1993 Sutton led efforts that established a Memorandum of Understanding between the DUBUQUE POLICE DEPARTMENT and the N.A.A.C.P. in response of accusations of racism. From this agreement developed the Dubuque Community Advisory Panel (later called the Dubuque Community-Police Relations Committee). This group hears complaints about police misconduct regarding civil rights or discrimination. Although the nine-member panel including city, police, and minority members, cannot force action, it made recommendations for changes to city and police operations and procedures. (6)

In addition to her FIRST CITIZEN AWARD from the TELEGRAPH HERALD in 1984, Sutton received the 1987 Y.W.C.A. Women of Achievement Award in the area of "human and civil rights." In 1989 she received the Ruby Sutton Award from the Dubuque branch of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE (N.A.A.C.P.); the N.A.A.C.P. Peacemaker Award in 1999; and the Doctor of Letters, from LORAS COLLEGE in 2000. In 2010 Sutton was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. (7)

The Ruby Sutton Building (formally the MULTICULTURAL FAMILY CENTER was formally dedicated on October 20, 2016.(8)



1. Barton, Thomas J. and Swenson, Jim. "Rubby Sutton Remembered as 'Such an Inspiration' ", Telegraph Herald, September 19, 2015, p. 1

2. Wiedemann, Katie, "Dubuque "Civil Rights Activist Ruby Sutton Dies," KCRG.com September 18, 2015, Online: http://www.kcrg.com/subject/news/dubuque-civil-rights-activist-ruby-sutton-dies-20150918

3. "Ruby Sutton," Iowa Commission on the Status of Women. Online: http://www.women.iowa.gov/about_women/HOF/iafame-sutton.html

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Barton and Swenson, p. 2

7. "Ruby Sutton"

8. "Chronology," Telegraph Herald, January 1, 2017, p. 78