Rubye Wright does not like speaking about her age: “I am as old as God says I am, and thankful to be one day older than I was yesterday,” she says.
But Wright, who is of African-American and Sioux heritage, was born shortly after World War I and is a member of New York State’s delegation to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
She will likely be the oldest delegate at the convention, according to the Manhattan Republican Party.
There, she’ll support Donald Trump.
Back to Dixie
Wright says she was “born Republican” — the party of Lincoln, in a time and place that felt not far removed from slavery.
Her father was a minister and also a landowner, yet Wright says that some of their neighbors in Kershaw County, South Carolina, regarded him as “free-ish.” Wright says he worked to take other people to vote and pushed to set up polling places, and when she was a child someone burnt down their house.
“Use your imagination,” she says, when asked who did it.
She remembers riding in the back of her father’s pickup truck when he drove around the countryside to support schooling for black children. At the time, the “Dixiecrat Democrats would ride the yellow bus to school,” Wright says. The “children of color” had to walk.
Though she says she has voted for Democrats in the past, her strict Republican loyalty never wavered, even when she moved to Brooklyn before high school.
In New York, she favored hard work and personal advancement, adherence to the Constitution and the Bible to effect change vs. protest: “You don’t get anything out of burning, hollering, yelling and cursing.”
Her involvement with politics came out of her work as a community organizer in East Harlem, where she advocated for better housing and conditions for the neighborhood.
“She knew everybody” in the neighborhood, says Ann Henderson, who was on the board of directors with Wright at Hope Community, an affordable housing nonprofit. Henderson says Wright was a Republican in a “sea of Democrats” and they once butted heads on whether to include some nearly market-rate apartments along with their push for affordable units. But her aim was always to have “good, quality housing built.”
Wright was a mainstay at board events for decades, where she always seemed to be wearing distinctive hats, Henderson says, that she made herself and decorated with flowers or buttons.
Wright’s love for the Constitution might have been matched by a respect for other documents: She knew the board bylaws “backwards and forwards.”
There was a moment when some Republicans hoped that convention bylaws might make for a pretty exciting national convention in Cleveland, halting Donald Trump. Wright, however, says she liked Trump “from the beginning.”
He is not a “politician,” she says, and recounts the story of Trump’s father giving him a loan to start off in business, not a gift. Her maternal grandfather did the same with her parents, she says, making them pay $50 for their inherited land.
“My father had more than anyone else” because “he worked harder than anyone else,” she says.
She sees Trump as bringing the Republican Party back to first principles, a party for those seeking opportunity — a president who would be a president, not a “social worker.” She has little love for President Barack Obama, hates Obamacare and onerous taxes.
Wright has been to every Republican convention but one since 1968 and says she makes a point to shake the candidate’s hand. From Richard Nixon —her favorite of those that she’s met — to Mitt Romney.
At the more recent conventions, she feels that there is more partying and drinking than there had been. The next day meetings are “kind of empty.”
But back in 1968, she remembers the shock of glamour, the sense that she’d “made it there.”
“Here I am at the highest table.”
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