I think the Lord only had one model like Ruby Brawner. She was a classy, Southern, African American woman who had enough charm in her little finger to fill up the big sanctuary at First Baptist Church on Green Street.
I don’t remember the moment I met Sister Ruby, but if you spent 10 minutes with her, you felt like you had known her forever. She had long arms and long delicate fingers. You could see here wave at you from a mile away. Those fingers just danced in the air like palm branches.
She lived in the area all of her life and has left a permanent imprint of goodness on our place in the world. She always called me darling, with a wonder lilt that left those words just floating along. She had a smile like no other.
Ruby Brawner found a way to bring Black folks and White folks together. She would pray for you. Not the kind of praying that you do over your breakfast table on Sunday morning. She brought her band of prayer warriors to your church at 6 a.m. on the first Sunday of the month. How do you say no to that? You don’t.
A lot of preachers had to roll out of the hay at 5 a.m. to meet them and unlock the doors. By the time the sun was finding its way through your stained glass windows, the Prayer Band had already covered your building and congregation in prayer.
A number of years ago, Ruby brought the entire congregation, choir and pastor from Antioch Baptist Church to lead us at First Baptist. Our choir at First Baptist has some very talented vocalists, but we are, for the most part, rhythmless white people. We have trouble with even the shuffle and clap thing.
Antioch does not. They sang, they danced and we clapped to the best of our abilities. The pastor had a stemwinder of a sermon, and his congregation gave him feedback with “A-men,” “That’s right” and Ruby’s trademark, “Truly.”
I remember looking over at Sister Ruby, who was dressed to the nines. She looked like a proud mother hen who had led her flock to visit a new place.
Every town needs someone like Ruby Brawner. But, there was but one, and she belonged to us. She left a giant empty spot in our community when she went to be with the Lord she loved so much. She was a light that pierced the darkness and showed us how Jesus loved all the children of the world.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said “If a man is called to be a street sweeper. He should sweep streets the way Michaelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote prose. He should sweep streets so well that one day all the hosts of heaven and Earth will pause and say, ‘Here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.’”
Ruby Brawner was never a streetsweeper, but her work to make this community a better place is rather remarkable. She did her job well.
I have a picture in my mind of Ruby Brawner at the Pearly Gates. She asks St. Peter if she may enter in.
He had but one response, “Truly!”
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the weekend Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com.