Legendary stage and screen actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and activist Ruby Dee, originally Ruby Ann Wallace, passed away on June 11th in New Rochelle, NY, at the age of 91, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Her notable screen appearances included: The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) directed by Alfred E. Green; A Raisin in the Sun (1961) directed by Daniel Petrie; Do the Right Thing (1989) directed by Spike Lee; and American Gangster (2007) directed by Ridley Scott. Ruby Dee’s acting career has spanned over several decades and generations of directors, actors, and actresses. She has worked with legendary Black film stars such as Sidney Poitier, Diana Sands, and Harry Belafonte, as well as current Hollywood stars like Denzel Washington and Samuel Jackson.
Dee also frequently co-starred with her husband, American film, television, and Broadway actor, director, poet, playwright, author, and social activist Ossie Davis. The couple appeared in 11 stage productions and five films together including Ruby Dee’s 1995 stage play Two Hah Hahs and a Homebo,y featuring their son Guy Davis, and in the Delta Sigma Theta film production, Countdown at Kusini, aka Cool Red (1976). Dee and Davis are also well known for the co-authored autobiography that detailed their public life as political activists and their private life decision to have an open marriage. In November 2005, the couple was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award, presented by the National Civil Rights Museum located in Memphis.
Ruby Dee was very active politically throughout her life and career, along with Davis. She was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Dee and Davis were personal friends with civil rights activists Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Dee was also a member of the African American female sorority Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Dee and Davis assisted the sorority in engaging in media activism and making history by being the first Black women’s organization to create, produce, and finance a feature-length Hollywood-style film titled Countdown at Kusini aka Cool Red (1976). The film was directed Ossie Davis and he, Ruby Dee, and Greg Morris starred in the film.
Days after her passing, Ruby Dee’s grandson Muta’Ali premiered his documentary, Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee, depicting about Dee and Davis exploring their lives together as they evolved around love, art, and activism. Muta’Ali explained:
I know Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee simply as Grandpa and Gram Ruby. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to examine more deeply the lives and careers of my grandparents and, with my grandmother Ruby, explore the pivotal, personal and professional choices she and Ossie made that lead them to achieve success in their marriage, their careers, their contribution to the civil rights movement and more.
The hope is to, through documenting their story, discover the secrets of divine love; romantic, professional, spiritual, communal, and self love. By telling the story of their marvelous lives and juxtaposing past with present, I’ll learn for myself and everyone who looks on what is essential to life and to love.
Ruby Dee was an inspiration to many and she helped pave the way for not only generations of young Black actors and actresses but also aspiring Black filmmakers, directors, and activists.
For information on the lives and careers of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, visit their official website http://www.ossieandruby.com/