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David Ruggles

When you think of Rosa Parks, the woman who refused to yield her seat on the bus to a White passenger in Alabama, do you also think of David Ruggles?  David Ruggles, over one hundred years before that historic event and two decades before the Civil War, refused to leave a passenger train, even though he had a ticket, when he was asked to by a conductor.  He was forcibly removed and Ruggles later sued the railway company.  He lost his case, but his actions give us an indication of the courage with which he lived his life.

Before moving to the utopian community in today’s Florence, Ruggles lived in New York City where he operated a grocery and, later, the nation’s first African-American bookstore.  He was also the first known Black publisher in the nation and was very active in anti-slavery organizations helping over 600 enslaved people, including Frederick Douglass, escape to freedom.

Ill-health plagued him during his adult life and when he left New York for Massachusetts in 1842, he was near-death and blind.  While he eventually recovered physically, his eyesight never completely returned.  He tried different methods to restore his vision and had some success with the water-cure, a treatment that entailed applying cold or lukewarm water to the body.  Because of its success in treating him, Ruggles became a doctor of hydropathy and established a hospital devoted to it in Florence.  His tireless activism and the ill-treatment he endured during his lifetime took its toll and he died in Florence on December 16, 1849.  While few remember him today, we are all the beneficiaries of his legacy of social justice, endurance, and courage.

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