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An Arts & Civil Pioneer Called to Rest

Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier

Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier

The greatest gift is not being afraid to question

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

Husband and Wife, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

Before there was Will and Jada Smith, there was Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. The two of them were a formidable force within the performing arts and civil rights movement. They were the master and mistress of ceremonies at the 1963 March on Washington, and Mrs. Dee was friends with the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  In rewards for her great achievements she was awarded with the Frederick Douglas Award in 1970 from the New York Urban League, and that’s just a little of all that she accomplished.

The arts and civil pioneer paved milestones for others who would soon follow in her footsteps, and for that she will always be remembered and acknowledged. She was called to rest peacefully at her New Rochelle, NY home on Wednesday, June 11 at 91-years-old.

The award-winning actress definitely lived a full and accomplished life. She had a seven-decade career which included several victories on stage and on screen. She was best known for co-starring in the film A Raisin in the Sun (1961) and the film American Gangster (2007), which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In addition to that nomination, she was also the recipient of Grammy, Emmy, Obie, Drama Desk, Screen Actors Guild, and Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Awards, as well as the National Media of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors.

“I’m crushed by this bad news and I know Ruby has already been embraced in a warm loving hug from her life partner of 57 years — Mr. Ossie Davis. It has been one of my great blessings in life to work with two of the finest artist and activist — Ruby and Ossie… The both of you told us ‘to always do the right thing.’ — Spike Lee

Other entertainment achievements by Mrs. Ruby Dee included:

  • Joining the American Negro Theater as an apprentice where she worked with Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and Hilda Simms.
  • Her first onscreen role was in the That Man of Mine in 1946.
  • She received national recognition for her role in the 1950 film of The Jackie Robinson Story.
  • In 1965, she performed in lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival as Kate in The Taming of the Shrew and Cordelia in King Lear, becoming the first black actress to portray a lead role in the festival.
  • In the 1960s, she appeared in politically charged films such as Gone Are the Days and The Incident, which is recognized as helping pave the way for young African-American actors and filmmakers.
  • She was nominated for eight Emmy Awards, winning once for her role in the 1990 TV film Decoration Day. She was nominated for her television guest appearance in the China Beach episode, “Skylark”.
  •  She appeared in Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing, and his 1991 film Jungle Fever.
  • On February 12, 2009, Dee joined the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College orchestra and chorus, along with the Riverside Inspirational Choir and NYC Labor Choir, in honoring Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday at the Riverside Church in New York City. Under the direction of Maurice Peress, they performed Earl Robinson‘s The Lonesome Train: A Music Legend for Actors, Folk Singers, Choirs, and Orchestra, in which Dee was the Narrator.

Ruby Dee’s achievements within the civil rights movement included:

  • She was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
  • In 1963, Dee emceed the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 
  • She was inducted into the New Rochelle Walk of Fame which honors the most notable residents from throughout the community’s 325 year history. She was also inducted into the Westchester County Women’s Hall of Fame on March 30, 2007.
  • In 2009 she received an Honorary Degree from Princeton University.

“Standing on the shoulders of your legend and Forever grateful for ur impact on this world and my life Miss #RubyDee. Rest on High.” — Tony winner Billy Porter.

 

About Naomi Bonman