Looking Back: Ruth Was No Floater!

Jefferson County Historical Society submitted the following article:

[Pictured above: Ruth Harris Dunk left Brookville for New York where she earned her LPN degree, her RN, and a B.S. in Nursing. (Courtesy Jefferson County History Center.)]

Submitted by Carole Briggs:


When I interviewed Ruth Vivian Harris Dunk in North Carolina, she often referred to the kinds of things her mother did and said. She had church meetings and gatherings in her home. She had her children read and recite things. She kept her children busy learning.

“My mother was the type of person—she didn’t want you to be a ‘floater.’ If you were a member of the floaters’ gang that meant that were doing nothing. My mother would say, ‘Scat, I’m no fooling. You stand up and fly right,’” Ruth said.

Between 1945 when she graduated from Summerville High School and 1955, Ruth worked in the home of L. V. and Cora Deemer. When her mother died in 1955, Ruth was twenty-eight and ready to stand up and test her wings.

She left Summerville and went to New York where she enrolled in a school of practical nursing. After graduation, she got a job, married, and had two children. But, she also continued her education, earning an R.N. and then a B.S. in nursing.

Ruth’s mother had instilled in her the importance of education, so when it was time for her son to begin school, she wanted him to attend a good one. She’d heard from friends that the public schools in New York weren’t that good, so she went to a parochial school to discuss enrollment. The priest discouraged her. Ruth persisted. The next day, the priest concurred, and Ruth’s son became one of the first black students at St. Mary’s in the Bronx.

In 1991, Ruth and her husband retired to Kinston, near to where he was raised. Their daughter lives in Birmingham, and their son lives in upstate New York.

No, siree, Ruth Harris Dunk was no “floater.” She is one of many diverse people who has traveled to and through Jefferson County.

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