How pioneering Ruby offered a lifeline to black youths

Thursday, 8th January 2015

Published: 8 January, 2015

IN the history of race relations in this country, there are countless individuals who made a real difference but whose names are likely to go unrecorded because they did not seek the spotlight.  

One of these is Ruby Noblemunn, who has died aged 75. She played a pioneering role in a string of youth projects that emerged from the anti-racism campaigns of the 1960s, 70s and 80s in north and central London. In her spare time, she also set up a number of her own schemes, including a club that got youngsters involved in a range of carnival activities and the youth-oriented Mixifrens, which she ran with her late husband Ossie.   

Aside from this, she was an active trade unionist and fearless social justice campaigner. Daughter René remembers how her father returned home alone from a march, attended by Angela Davis, that he and Ruby had gone to in Red Lion Square in 1969. 

“We asked where Mum was and he told us she’d been arrested and wouldn’t be back for a while.”  

Amazingly, Ruby managed to do all this and raise a family of four children. “She was a real people person and always did what she thought was right,” says René. “We always felt a part of what she did and, in fact, we all ended up working in the same sort of field.”

Ruby came to London from St Kitts in 1955 and became a member of early community relations champion the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, before going on to work in residential homes and youth clubs at a time when the needs of black youngsters were barely acknowledged by the mainstream. These included Highbury New Park home for boys in Islington and the Cryptic One youth club in Westminster.  

Her community-based political activism found further expression in the Afro-Caribbean Organisation in King’s Cross. As voluntary chairwoman between 1976 and 1984 she oversaw a number of groundbreaking projects including the Paul Robeson House for homeless youths in West Hampstead; the Bridge, which formed a link with youngsters from the predominantly black neighbourhood of Bjilmer in Amsterdam and the campaign to erect a memorial stone on the unmarked grave of Claudia Jones in Highgate Cemetery, when Jones was a largely forgotten figure. 

Separately, Ruby was also black women’s co-ordinator for the London branch of local govern­ment union NALGO.

She retired in 1995, only to find herself as busy as ever as a board member of the London Union of Youth Clubs, among other things, and a devoted member of her church, St Ignatius in Stamford Hill, where her funeral service recently took place. 

“Ruby was a special lady who will always be remembered with affection, not only for her selfless work for others, but also for her lively spirit,” said Winston Pinder, who worked with her at the Afro Caribbean Organisation. 

Ruby is interred at Edmonton cemetery and leaves four children: David, Davina, Johnny and René, 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.   

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