Des Moines’ East High School auditorium named for Black Iowa educator, State Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines

Longtime educator and legislator Ruth Ann Gaines was honored Sunday inside the East High School auditorium named for her.

A ceremony held Sunday at East High School in Des Moines commemorated the naming of the school’s auditorium for famed, longtime educator Ruth Ann Gaines, who is an Iowa legislator. Rep. Gaines (D-Des Moines), who was Iowa teacher of the year in 1998, one of many awards, is chair of the Iowa Black Legislative Caucus.

Ruth Ann Gaines Auditorium
The new Ruth Ann Gaines Auditorium at East High School. Photo by Shimae Obie.

Gaines, in her speech on Sunday, told the audience she came to East in 1971 — “young, gifted and Black.” She said she knew she wanted to use the arts as a way of building self-esteem, pulling people together and as a way of teaching.

“I kept going. I never sat down. I never quit,” Gaines said. “And as I look out . . . and I see this picture of you, I know I made it. I made it. I climbed to the top, and here I am today.”

An audience member said, “Thank you, God,” before applause erupted.

Educator and legislator Ruth Ann Gaines in the auditorium named for her at East High School. Photo by Shimae Obie.

While a college drama major in the 1960s, Gaines said she was never cast in plays at Clarke University in Dubuque.

“I spent four years wanting to get up on that stage and do something,” she said.

But, she was told: “The Dubuque audience isn’t ready for a Black person playing a mom, or playing a sister, or playing a child,” she said.

During her first year teaching at East, Gaines said she incorporated “color-blind casting.” Gaines said so much of her work over four decades with East High students occurred inside East’s auditorium, classroom and in the community.

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