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Home > News > Ruby Duncan recipient of the Margaret Chase Smith Award

February 8, 2009
Contact: Matthew Dunlap

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap on Hand as Ruby Duncan Accepts Margaret Chase Smith American Democracy Award

WASHINGTON, DC —Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap joined his colleagues at the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) winter meeting in Washington to discuss common issues, shared practices and emerging issues. The group also acknowledged the heroic work of Ruby Duncan of Nevada with the Margaret Chase Smith American Democracy Award.

Established by NASS in 1992, the Margaret Chase Smith American Democracy Award was established to commemorate acts of extraordinary political courage in the face of tremendous odds. The award was named for U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine , who stood up to the red-baiting tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the darkest days of the Cold War. Her famous speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, now known as the Declaration of Conscience, addressed the work of the Committee on Un-American Activities, which had systematically blacklisted and ruined the lives of thousands of Americans based on rumors, innuendos, and accusations involving political affiliations real or imagined with the Communist Party.

Past recipients of the Margaret Chase Smith American Democracy Award include Watergate Judge John Sirica, civil rights activist Rosa Parks, and Southern Poverty Law Center founders Morris Dees and Joseph Levin, among others.

Ruby Duncan is the 2009 recipient of the prestigious award. She was nominated by Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller.

After migrating to Las Vegas, Nevada in the early 1950's, Ruby Duncan became the driving force behind a 25-year anti-poverty coalition that addressed issues of hunger, literacy, health care, voting rights and more for legions of Las Vegas residents.

During this time, Ruby Duncan became a tireless advocate for women and children. She was instrumental in bringing to the state the Work Incentive Program, Women and Infant Children Nutrition Program, CETA dollars, food stamps, and early periodic screening and diagnostic testing for children. Duncan and her allies also brought to the Westside of Las Vegas its first medical facility—which was run by, and for, economically disadvantaged women and children. The clinic, named after the community organization founded by the women—Operation Life—screened a higher percentage of eligible children for disease than any other federally-funded pediatric clinic in the U.S.

Through the establishment of the Operation Life Community Development Corporation in 1972, Duncan led efforts to bring the community its first school breakfast and lunch programs, public library and public swimming pool. She also led the creation of daycare centers, crime prevention programs, job training resources and job placement programs.

Duncan also mobilized and encouraged the women she worked with to become politically active She launched voter registration drives and worked to ensure representation for Westside residents on welfare, housing and school boards. Duncan currently resides in Las Vegas , Nevada , and was on hand to receive the award accompanied by 16 members of her immediate family.

Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller remarked that Duncan initiated her efforts while working as an African-American housekeeper in a time when Nevada was “the segregated South of the West. She dragged Las Vegas kicking and screaming into the 19th century,” Miller wryly noted.

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap met with Duncan and congratulated her for receiving the award named for Maine's legendary senator. “Ruby Duncan embodies the very best of what Senator Smith represented,” he said. “Against terrific odds and great opposition, Ruby Duncan persisted and persevered to make her community a stronger and better place for her children and for her neighbors. I think Senator Smith would have found a lot in common with her.”