Ruby Hurley was the Southeastern Regional Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP had a prevalent role in the mobilization of Black people during the Civil Rights Movement. Ruby Hurley was born November 7, 1909 to Alice and Edward Ruffin in Washington, D.C. Hurley was raised and engaged with members of the Black middle class giving her the opportunity to affiliate with influential Christian churches and further her education to receive a law degree during a time when Black women were limited to the domestic sphere or discouraged from receiving higher education. Given Hurley’s educational and social background, she had many opportunities and gain influence within her community in which she could have used her womanist moral agency in solidarity with any organization or form her own. However, thinking of the bigger picture Hurley decided to used her womanist moral agency to advocate for Human Rights in accordance with the NAACP to broaden her agency. The choice to join the NAACP instead of working on her own shows that Hurley was critical and conscious of her agency as a black woman.
This digital exhibit highlights Ruby Hurley’s womanist moral agency during her tenure as the Southeastern Regional Director of the NAACP. While Hurley’s womanist moral agency spans before being appointed to this profound leadership role, this exhibit focuses specifically on her activism as the Southeastern Regional Director of the NAACP. While holding this position Hurley was as a prevalent Black woman civil rights leader despite being marginalized within and outside of the NAACP. The womanist moral agency is defined as engagement with social discourses that marginalize Black women in which a moral agent resists various forms of oppression that endanger the Black woman’s identity, talents and potentialities and fights to change the circumstances that hinder the Black community, such as inequality, sexism and racism. This allows the agent to position themselves in a way that allows them to make strides for not only themselves but for their entire community by working to accomplish liberation and justice for all.
To construct this exhibit, we used context analysis to analyze archival materials to establish a correlation between Ruby Hurley’s womanist moral agency and our Introduction to Christian Ethics: Archival Research and Black Women in U.S. Civil Rights course readings especially Katie G. Cannon's "Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: The Womanist Dilemma in Development of a Black Liberation Ethic." This article explains the racial identity, gender differences and respectability politics conflicts that Black women face while working in a racially segregated society and in male dominant organizations. These readings cover topics of agency, narratives of experiences, ethics such as Black liberation ethics, activism, Black feminist thought, and numerous systems of oppression. This text provided a working definition for womanist moral agency, as mentioned above, in which Cannon defines the statement “hitting a straight lick with a crooked stick” as the dilemma that Black women find themselves in when accounting for their intersectionality, as a Black woman, in a race and male dominated society that shows prejudice against their race and gender. This causes a Black women to negate certain parts of her identity in order to be viewed as credible.
Ruby Hurley started her womanist moral agency nationally within the NAACP as early as 1943 as the National Youth Council Director in New York. In 1951, Hurley was named the Southeastern Regional Director of the NAACP. While in this leadership position, Hurley advocated for civil rights, increased the membership of the NAACP, gave speeches on race issues, and investigated racial incidents (e.g. murders and beatings of African-Americans in racially intense communities of the South) in which she continued until her retirement in 1978. Hurley’s status as the Southeastern Regional Director displays her womanist moral agency by situating her in a way that allowed her to accomplish the work she deemed necessary for the liberation of the Black community. This gave her the power and authority to make decisions in a racially segregated society and in a Black male dominated organization that very few women had.
Furthermore, although Hurley had challenges due to being black and a woman, Hurley's agency and commitment to social justice motivated her to keep the operations of the NAACP running smoothly despite not receiving proper acknowledgement. Her work and eagerness to help Black people display her unwavering commitment to her community. She has set high standards for those coming after her; because of her works she was named the “Most Militant Negro Woman in the South” and others viewed her as the Queen of the Civil Rights Movement. Hurley was a Black intellectual who did not take no for an answer when faced with adversity. Hurley worked diligently and achieved a great deal of strives for the liberation of the Black community without receiving the recognition that was given to her Black male counterparts such as, Martin Luther King and many others. Hurley’s womanist moral agency allowed her to remain determined and committed toward making strides for social justice despite not receiving said recognition. This goes to show that she didn’t use her womanist moral agency for her own selfish gain or for the famous and celebrity of being a Civil Rights leader but for the betterment of the entire Black community. Despite male privilege Hurley continued to wear her title with grace while she fought until her retirement to better the condition of the Black community while using the benefits and resources of the NAACP and abiding by respectability politics. This beautiful luminous Black woman shaped the lives of many Blacks and non-Blacks through her work and leadership.