Legendary actress Ruby Dee at the 1963 March on Washington. (Google Images)
Legendary actress Ruby Dee at the 1963 March on Washington.
(Google Images)

The world is mourning the loss of legendary stage and screen actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee who died on Wednesday at age 91. Corinne Heller of E News is reporting that Dee passed away peacefully at her home in New Rochelle, New York surrounded by family and friends. Born in Cleveland in 1924, Dee was married to iconic stage and screen actor Ossie Davis for 56 years.

Davis and Dee met in 1945 when she auditioned for the Broadway play “Jeb,” starring Davis (both were cast in it). In December 1948, on a day off from rehearsals from another play, Davis and Dee took a bus to New Jersey to get married. They already were so close that “it felt almost like an appointment we finally got around to keeping,” Dee wrote in “In This Life Together.” Davis passed away in 2005, one year after both received Kennedy Center Honors.

The parents of three children appeared in more than 30 films together. Dee is probably best remembered for her role as Ruth Younger in the 1961 movie A Raisin in the Sun opposite iconic actor Sidney Poitier. Dee starred in several small screen roles over the next two decades. Her film career was resurrected by then up-and-coming film director Spike Lee who cast Dee and Davis in his film School Daze (1988). Dee and Davis would go on to co-star in several of Lee’s films including Lee’s seminal films Do the Right Thing (1989) and Jungle Fever (1991). The screen legends helped usher into existence a new wave of black cinema in Hollywood.

In 1995, Dee won a National Medal of Arts award and a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement award in 2000.  In 2007, Dee won a Grammy award for Best Spoken Word Album for her reading of her memoir. More recently, Dee received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her role in American Gangster (2007) co-starring Academy Award-winning actors Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.

In addition to her work on the screen, Davis and Dee were civil rights activists. They served as masters of ceremonies at the 1963 March on Washington. Dee was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)In 1999, Dee and Davis were arrested while protesting the shooting death of Amadou Diallo, 23, an immigrant from Guinea.

Dee was scheduled to appear at Film Life’s 18th Annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) on June 22 for the world premiere of “Life Essentials with Ruby Dee,” a documentary about the famous couple directed by their grandson Muta’Ali. 

Ruby Dee was also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Dee’s daughter Dora Davis says her mother passed away of “natural causes.” She was 91.

This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire.

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