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 Remembering Ruby Dee
Kobina "Boyo" Annan, Jr.

June 14, 2014


Ruby Dee was an American actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist and activist.

Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio in 1922, to Gladys Hightower and Marshall Edward Nathaniel, a cook, waiter and porter.


After her mother left the family, Dee's father remarried, to Emma Amelia Benson, a school teacher. She was raised in Harlem New York and attended Hunter College, where she graduated with a degree in romance language in 1945. Dee was a member of the Delta Sigma Theta.

Ruby Dee joined the American Negro Theater as an apprentice, working with Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Hilda Simms. She made several appearances on Broadway. Her first onscreen role was in the That Man of Mine in 1946. She received national recognition for her role in the 1950 film
The Jackie Robinson Story.

In 1965, Dee performed in lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival as in The Taming of the Shrew and Cordelia in King Lear, becoming the first black actress to portray a lead role in the festival.

 

Dee's career in acting crossed all major forms of media over a span of eight decades, including the films A Raisin in the Sun, in which she recreated her stage role as a suffering housewife in the projects, and Edge of the City. She played both roles opposite Poitier.

During the 1960s, Dee appeared in such politically charged films as Gone Are the Days and The Incident, which is recognized as helping pave the way for young African -American actors and filmmakers.

 

Dee 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." Her husband Ossie Davis (1917- 2005) also appeared in the episode. She appeared in Spike Lee's 1989 film Do The Right Thing, and his 1991 film Jungle Fever.

In 1995, she and Davies were awarded the National Medal of Arts. They were also recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004. In 2003, she narrated a series WPA slave narratives in the HBO film Unchained Memories. In 2007 the winner of the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album was shared by Dee and Ossie Davies for With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together, and former President Jimmy Carter.

Dee was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for her portrayal of Mama Lucas in American Gangster. She won the Screen Actors Guild award for the same performance. At 83 years of age, Dee was the second oldest nominee for Best Supporting Actress, behind Gloria Stuart who was 87 when nominated for her role in Titanic. This was Dee's only Oscar nomination.

Together, Dee and Davis wrote an autobiography in which they discussed their political activism and their open marriage. Together they had three children: son blues musician Guy Davis, and two daughters, Nora Day and Hasna Muhammed.

Dee and Davies were well-known civil rights activists. 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. Dee and Davies were both personal friends of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X with Davis giving the eulogy at Malcom X's funeral in 1965.

In 1999, Dee and Davis were arrested at 1 Police Plaza, the headquarters of the New York Police Department, protesting the police shooting of Amadou.

In November 2005 Dee was awarded along with her late husband, the Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award. This award was presented by the National Civil Rights Museum located in Memphis. She was also inducted into the Westchester County women's Hall of Fame on March 30, 2007


joining such other honorees as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nita Lowey. In 2009 she received an Honorary Degree from Princeton University.

Dee died on June 11, 2014 at her home in New Rochelle, New York, from natural causes at the age of 91. She will be cremated, and her ashes will be held in the same urn as that of her husband Davis, with the inscription "In this thing together"

May your spirit live on through film and spoken word. Rest in eternal peace.

 

Kobina "Boyo" Annan, Jr.

June 14, 2014
 

 
 
 

 

 

 

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