The Library of Virginia >> Exhibitions >> Working Out Her Destiny
  Working Out Her Destiny
Notable Virginia Women -  Ruth L. Harvey Charity (1924–1996)


Shaping Public Opinion

Women's Organizations



Service to Country

Votes for Women


Where are the Women:
Examples from the LVA Collections



Related Resources

Return to Notable Virginia Women

One of the leading civil rights attorneys in Virginia, Ruth LaCountess Harvey Charity attended segregated Danville public schools and the Palmer Memorial Institute, a North Carolina school known for leadership training of African American women, before receiving a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from Howard University. While president of the university's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she led a sit-in at a segregated restaurant in Washington. Married to Harry Inman Wood, she retained her maiden name when she established her law practice in Danville. After marrying tennis player and coach Ronald Karl Charity in 1968, she practiced as Ruth Harvey Charity.

Civil rights advocacy was the centerpiece of her professional career. In 1960 she led a local campaign to gain access for African Americans to Danville's public library and city parks, three years before local black clergymen affiliated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded the Danville Movement to combat segregation. The Danville Movement and the city government collided in dramatic and violent fashion in the summer of 1963. Police beat and arrested protestors, and a grand jury indicted leaders of the movement under an old slavery-era statute that made it a felony to incite black people to insurrection against white people.

As a participant, one of the people indicted, and attorney for many others, Ruth Harvey began a decade-long battle in the city, state, and federal courts to defend the civil rights activists and overturn their convictions on appeal. By the end of the 1960s she was one of the best-known African American women in Virginia. She campaigned unsuccessfully for seats in the General Assembly and in Congress but in 1970 won election to a four-year term on the Danville City Council. In 1972 Charity was the first black woman from Virginia elected to the Democratic National Committee. She was also active in the National Organization for Women, worked for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and early in the 1980s organized a Danville chapter of Black Women for Political Action.

In a sad ending to a distinguished career, in 1984 Charity was convicted of embezzling money from an estate she was administering and lost her license to practice law. Ruth Harvey Charity died on 26 April 1996 after collapsing while waiting to catch a bus in Washington, D.C.