James' mother was a very strong and determined woman. Despite her early circumstances of becoming impregnated by a black boy in the South at a time when interracial relationships were considered taboo, she held steadfast to her beliefs. Ruth's father shunned her so she moved north and ended up living in Harlem. She married a good man.
Ruth worked hard at any job she could to care for her child and later children. She was originally Jewish but became a Christian after learning more about the faith. Her faith in God, and the acceptance she found among the black people in her life, helped her to guide her children through the church.
Ruth was determined that no matter what it took, her children would attend church and get a good education. She continued to work hard and keep her children out of trouble and on a straight path. She experienced the death of her husband and remarriage, but despite her hardships, she made sure that all twelve of her children graduated college.