Another gift to Erie from Laurel, Mississippi, Rubye Jenkins Husband was born into a family who believed in the power of education to transform one’s life, and also the responsibility to work for positive change. Her sister was one of the Tougaloo (College) Nine who in 1961 conducted a peaceful protest against the segregated Public Library of Jackson, Mississippi. At Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Rubye participated in sit-ins at swimming pools and other places of public accommodation that remained off-limits to African Americans in the 1960s. “My parents encouraged us to work for change,” she told us in 2019, “to be the best at what we were and what we could be, to help bring about change in our community, to help someone else.” At Erie’s JFK Center in the 1970s, Ms. Jenkins-Husband worked to “bridge the information and opportunity gap” between the center and the community on issues of education, economic opportunity and housing. “They [community residents] trusted us,” recalling the days of porch-sitting for hours on end, getting to know folks and their concerns. Jenkins-Husband spearheaded the work of the Community Housing Resource Board, educating property owners about issues pertaining to discriminatory “red-lining” so as to head off problems before they emerged.
In 1997 Rubye Jenkins-Husband became the first African American woman elected to Erie city council. Serving for more than 20 years, Jenkins-Husband worked hard to advance greater equal opportunity ion hiring in Erie, including an affirmative plan for the City Water Authority. Jenkins-Husband advanced economic revitalization in distressed parts of the community on Erie’s historic Eastside, including government and private foundation funding for historic Parade Street, the landing of a WalMart on Elm Street, and the reclamation and beautification of McClelland Park in partnership with community organizations. For decades, Jenkins-Husband championed the cause of finding better treatments and a cure for Sickle-Cell Anemia. This work has only further cemented Jenkins-Husband’s legacy as one of the most influential African American women in the history of northwest Pennsylvania.