The Ruby Sutton Building

In Her Honor

Ruby Sutton Building Dedication


“All I want for everyone is fair play and equity regardless of race, creed, color, whatever, economic status. Just treat people fair, as you like to be treated.” - Ruby Sutton (1932-2015)

Ruby Sutton did more than just speak these words. “The Mother Theresa of Dubuque” lived them every day of her life as a tireless champion for human rights, justice and diversity.

Born in Louisiana in 1932 and raised in Mississippi, Ruby moved with her family to Dubuque in 1960 when it was one of the whitest cities in the U.S. At that time, Dubuque landlords limited the few people of color in town to “the West 8th and Rock Street area.” 

Ruby once described those days: “It was very difficult because there really wasn’t any black people in Dubuque at all.  I got involved in a lot of civil organizations.  It helped me a little bit to try and educate people.  Wherever there was a gathering, I would always be there so people would get a chance to see me, see who I am, that I had mouth and hands like they did.[1]

The times were difficult for her children as well. At school, students threw rocks and called them names. It got so bad that “several times we thought about leaving, but there was something about staying here to make things better.”[2]

In 1969, when she was refused public accommodation in a restaurant, it prompted an investigation and the restaurant eventually capitulated.  Ruby didn’t want money. Instead, she simply wanted the restaurant to treat people right, especially African Americans. She also reached out to the City Manager and started a Human Rights Commission.

Ruby’s entire life was marked by courage, determination and passion for social justice. In addition to raising eight children, she completed her college degree in Chicago by traveling to and from class every day on the train.

To name just a few of her many achievements over the years, Ruby Sutton worked at Operation: New View Community Action Agency from 1973-2009, served on the Education Committee for Affirmative Action, helped organize Dubuque’s NAACP Chapter (serving as President from 1993-1995), worked on Dubuque’s Human Rights Commission for 21 years and volunteered with the Dubuque Community Food Pantry. In addition, Ruby was trained and served as a mediator for the city and helped design the first Diversity Training for the City.

A humble person, Ruby never sought out the honors that would come to her over years:

  • Telegraph Herald’s First Citizen (1984)
  • YMCA Women of Achievement Award (1987)
  • NAACP Peacemaker Award (1999)
  • Honorary doctorate of letters from Loras College (2000)
  • Friends of Iowa Civil Rights Award (2000)
  • City of Dubuque’s declaration of Ruby Sutton Day (2009)
  • Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame (2010)

In 2015, the Dubuque Branch of the NAACP petitioned the City Council to name the Multicultural Family Center after Ruby Sutton. With the Board’s strong support, the Council voted unanimously to name the building housing the Multicultural Family Center in her honor. In addition to adding her name to the MFC logo and recognizing her in a permanent display, a bronze plaque will celebrate Ruby’s legacy.

The Multicultural Family Center is proud to be associated with this Dubuque icon who effectively and tirelessly dedicated her life to equity, support, and justice for all people.

[1] C.J. Barnes, Life Narratives of African Americans in Iowa, Arcadia Publishing, 2001, pp. 60.

[2] Barnes, 2001, pp. 60-61, 106.