Ruby Nell Sales
Ruby Nell Sales is a nationally-recognized human-rights activist, public theologian, and social critic, whose articles and work appear in many journals, online sites, and books. Under the tutelage of Professor Jean Wiley, Sales joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960’s as a teenager at Tuskegee University and went to work as a student freedom fighter in Lowndes County, Alabama. There, she worked with Bob Mants, Gloria Larry, Janet Moses, Jimmy Rogers, Willie Vaughn, and local people that included Clara Maul and John Huelett.
In August 1965, Sales, along with other SNCC workers, joined young people from Fort Deposit, Alabama, who organized a demonstration to protest the actions of the local White grocery store owners who had cheated their parents. The group was arrested and held in jail and then suddenly released. Jonathan Daniels, a White seminarian and freedom worker from Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts was assassinated as he pulled Sales out of the line of fire, when they attempted to enter Cash Grocery Store to buy sodas for other freedom workers who were released from jail. Tom Coleman also shot and deeply wounded Father Richard Morrisroe, a priest from Chicago. Despite threats of violence, Sales was determined to attend the trial of Daniels’ murderer, Tom Coleman, and to testify on behalf of her slain colleague. Coleman was acquitted by a jury of all white peers.
As a social activist, Sales has served on many committees to further the work of racial, sexual, gender, and class reconciliation, education, and awareness. She has served on the Steering Committee for International Women’s Day, Washington, D.C.; the James Porter Colloquium Committee, Howard University, Washington, D.C.; the Coordinating Committee, People’s Coalition, Washington, D.C.; the President’s Committee On Race, University of Maryland; and the Coalition on Violence Against Women, Amnesty International, Washington, D.C. She was a founding member of Sage Magazine: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women. Sales received a Certificate of Gratitude for her work on Eyes on the Prize. Additionally, she was featured in Broken Ground: A Film on Race Relations in the South, by Broken Ground Productions. From 1991-1994, Sales founded and directed the national nonprofit organization Women of All Colors, dedicated to improving the overall quality of life for women, their families, and the communities in which they live. Women of All Colors organized a week-long SisterSpeak that brought more than 80 Black women together to set a national agenda.
Sales has preached around the country and spoken at national conferences on race, class, gender, and reconciliation. She has done groundbreaking work on community and non-violence formation and served as a national convener of the Every Church A Peace Church Movement. Sales has attended and earned degrees from Tuskegee Institute, Manhattanville College, and Princeton University. Most recently, in 1998, she received a Masters of Divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she specialized in Feminist, African-American, and Liberation Theologies, with an emphasis on race, class, and gender issues. While in Divinity School, she served on a city-wide Ecumenical Task Force on Prison Reform, in Boston; the Steering Committee on Wheelock College’s national conference, Race and Racism in the 90’s: Teaching and Living Social Justice; the Brookline Race Relations Council, and the student representative to the EDS Board of Trustees Committee. Sales was the Absalom Jones Scholar while at Divinity School and received the Social Justice Award upon graduation.
In 1999, Selma, Alabama gave Sales the key to the city to honor her contributions there. In 2000, Dan Rather spotlighted Sales on his “American Dream” Segment. In 2007, Sales moved to Columbus, Georgia, where she organized: a southern summit on racism; a national write-in campaign to save Albany State from being merged into a White college; a grassroots and media campaign to shed light on the death of 17-year-old Billye Jo Johnson, who allegedly killed himself on a dark road in Lucedale, Mississippi when a deputy stopped him for speeding; Long Train Running Towards Justice, which celebrated the work of Black teachers during segregation and explored the ways that the Black school culture has been destroyed by White officials, under the guise of desegregation and a meeting with students at Savannah State to assist them in organizing and mobilizing a move by officials to merge Savannah State with a White college. In 2009, the national HistoryMakers organization named her a HistoryMaker for her contributions to civic affairs. The Veterans of Hope Project selected her to be a part of its video series, and her video “Standing Against the Wind” has been shown around the nation.
Always a sturdy and consistent advocate for racial justice, for people of color, lesbians and gays, women, and seniors, Sales has made the struggle for racial justice one of the centerpieces of her work. Her recent body of work on racism and racial justice includes encounters with the York County (PA) NAACP, Mennonites, Every Church A Peace Church, Servant Leadership School, Washington Cathedral, New Hampshire Supreme Court Association, and Goshen College. Sales organized a press conference with local women in Los Angeles to protest the slander of Black women by Don Imus.
Sales’ team taught a course on movement history at Morehouse College in the fall of 2012 with Vincent Harding on “Martin Luther King Jr. – After the March on Washington.” She also served as a Field Education Teacher and supervised the co-curricular work of an ITC seminary student. In August 2013, Sales was awarded the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference Living Legacies Civil Rights Recognition Award. In April 2014, Sales was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers at Morehouse College.
Throughout her career, Sales has mentored young people and provided support and venues for an intergenerational community of developing and seasoned social justice performing and creative artists. Sales has a deep commitment to providing the education, practical experiences, and frame of references to contest racism and add their voices to the public conversations on the many streams of oppression that emerge from them.
Presently, Sales serves as the founder and director of the SpiritHouse Project. The SpiritHouse Project is a national nonprofit organization that uses the arts, research, education, action, and spirituality to bring diverse peoples together to work for racial, economic, and social justice, as well as for spiritual maturity. SpiritHouse roots its work today in exposing the extrajudicial murders of African-Americans by White vigilantes and police.
The SpiritHouse Project houses The Jonathan Daniels and Samuel Younge Institute for Racial Justice which (1) supports and prepares a new generation of peace and justice workers who want to discern a call to social justice and non-violence; (2) strengthens their courage, hope, resolve and reason to do this work; (3) prepares them to play leading roles in public policy debates about issues such as poverty, prison industrial complex, the shrinking budget for human needs, voting rights, privacy and judicial issues, and neo-conservatism; and (4) helps grassroots communities meet their urgent need for trained and committed volunteers or staff. The 2014 class of Daniels and Younge Fellows included students and alumni from Georgia State and Spelman colleges.
SpiritHouse also houses SisterAll Programs that bring Black women together in assemblies, classrooms, and performance spaces to renew our historical roles as a community of activists, spiritual guides, and leaders who stand and work on the front lines for racial, economic, and human rights, using the tools of non-violence and participatory democracy. SisterAlls are community-building projects that call together black female scholars, activists, artists, students, workers, practitioners, lay and ordained spiritual leaders, and Black women from all walks of life to develop the language, knowledge, connections, analysis, community spirit, and tools of participatory democracy that they will use as front-line activists to build up a 21st-century crusade for racial justice.
In the fall of 2013, SpiritHouse inaugurated the N. Gordon Cosby Seasoned Voice Fellowship program. Named after Cosby, the founder of the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. — a community that offers a radical devotion to justice, compassion, sisterhood and brotherhood, and servant leadership — SpiritHouse offers this Fellowship to seasoned voices whom incorporate social justice at the heart of their work and are long-distance runners for justice. Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the first holder of this fellowship position.