George Thompson Ruby, politician, was born in New York on July 1, 1841, the son of Reuben and Rachel (Humphrey) Ruby. He was a free-born black, probably a mulatto. His family moved to Portland, Maine, while he was very young. After acquiring a sound liberal arts education there, he journeyed to Haiti, where he worked as a correspondent for the Pine and Palm, a New England newspaper edited by James Redpath. Ruby's job was to send information about Haiti to the United States for black Americans seeking freedom from slavery and racial strife. He returned to the United States and settled in 1864 in Louisiana, where he was later employed as a schoolteacher. He left Louisiana in September 1866 after being beaten by a white mob while trying to establish a common school at Jacksboro. He joined the Freedmen's Bureau at Galveston, began administering the bureau's schools, served as a correspondent for the New Orleans Tribune, and taught school at the Methodist Episcopal Church of Galveston at a salary of $100 a month. He later began publication of the short-lived Galveston Standard. Upon leaving Galveston he became a traveling agent for the bureau, a position in which he visited Washington, Austin, Bastrop, Fort Bend, and other counties, with the purpose of establishing chapters of the Union League, as well as temperance societies.
Ruby served in the capacity of a traveling agent until October 1867. In 1869 he was appointed deputy collector of customs at Galveston, a position in which he was an important patronage broker. During his tenure he was on friendly terms with Governor Edmund J. Davis and with such prominent white Galvestonians as Victor McMahan of the McMahan Banking House, businessman C. B. Gardiner, district judge Chauncey B. Sabin and county judge Samuel Dodge. Even though he relinquished his position with the Freedmen's Bureau, he still was affiliated with the Union League and became president of that organization in 1868. It was the league more than anything else that enabled Ruby to rise within the ranks of the Republican party, for through this organization he influenced the large black constituency of the party. Consequently, Ruby was elected delegate to the national Republican convention in 1868; he was the only black in the Texas delegation. In that same year, he also was elected a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention of 1868–69.
In the election of 1869, when many whites decided not to go to the polls, Ruby was elected to the state Senate from the predominantly white Twelfth District. As senator, he became one of the most influential men of the Twelfth and Thirteenth legislatures. The committees to which he was appointed-judiciary, militia, education, and state affairs-performed 75 percent of the work of the Senate during the Twelfth Legislature. In the Senate, Ruby introduced successful bills to incorporate the Galveston and El Paso, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio, and the Galveston, Houston and Tyler railroads, the Harbor Trust Company, and a number of insurance companies, and to provide for the geological and agricultural survey of the state. He also worked with organized labor. Before the Civil War, whites had dominated work on the docks of Galveston, but after 1870 the situation changed, partly because of Ruby's organizing the first Labor Union of Colored Men at Galveston.
Ruby chose not to seek reelection in 1873 because the Democrats had achieved a majority in the Senate. He saw the power of the Radical Republicans declining and moved back to Louisiana, where he considered the situation more hopeful. In New Orleans he became clerk of the surveyor for the Port of New Orleans and worked with the internal revenue department. In the late 1870s he strongly supported the Exoduster movement, a popular, unorganized migration of more than 20,000 blacks from Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas to the Kansas frontier, a move encouraged by heightened racial violence in the South. From 1877 to 1882 Ruby edited a newspaper for blacks, the New Orleans Observer.
When he first came to Texas, he was known as a militant black carpetbagger. However, his personal qualities of tact and diplomacy, as well as his education, softened the reactions of his political opponents. On the other hand, he made many whites uncomfortable when he married a mulatto, named Lucy, whom many mistook for white. One historian judges Ruby "the most important black politician in Texas during Reconstruction in terms of power and ability." Ruby died of malaria in New Orleans on October 31, 1882.