Ruby Dee, the iconic, Emmy-winning actress, renowned for her civil rights leadership as much as her stage and screen talent, died June 11 in her New Rochelle N. Y. home at the age of 91.
A revered role model in Black America, she received honors and accolades this week from national civil rights leaders to the President of the United States.
"Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of actress, author, and activist Ruby Dee," writes President Obama in a statement. "In roles from Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun to Mama Lucas in American Gangster, Ruby captivated and challenged us – and Michelle and I will never forget seeing her on our first date as Mother Sister in Do the Right Thing.
"Through her remarkable performances, Ruby paved the way for generations of black actors and actresses, and inspired African-American women across our country. Through her leadership in the civil rights movement she and her husband, Ossie Davis, helped open new doors of opportunity for all. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ruby and Ossie’s three children, with their friends and family, and with all those who loved them dearly."
Her 56-year marriage to actor/playwright Ossie Davis, who preceded her in death, was admired deeply as much for their mutual civil rights leadership as for their enduring romance. He was the eulogist for Malcolm X.
Ruby Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio on Oct. 27, 1922. While defying racial stereotypes she climbed to the top in her movie and Broadway careers. She was nominated for the Academy for her role in "American Gangster" among a string of other awards in her stellar career.
In 1963, Ruby Dee served as mistress of ceremonies for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom alongside her husband and in 1965 she became the first Black actress to play a leading role in the American Shakespeare Festival as Kate in "The Taming of the Shrew" and Cordelia in "King Lear."
"Today we lost a true gem in the civil rights and entertainment community," said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors. "With a career spanning seven decades and numerous achievements – including being an NAACP Spingarn recipient in 2008, Ruby Dee blazed a trail for African American artists by advocating for racial equality in the performing arts. She was a courageous and fearless activist, who tirelessly committed herself to social, economic and political causes, including emceeing the historic 1963 March on Washington. Ms. Dee will be deeply missed; but her contributions and legacy will live with us forever."
Interim NAACP President/CEO Lorraine C. Miller said, "In a career spanning seven decades, Ms. Dee will be forever known as a powerhouse in the performing arts community and in the arena of civil rights. In recognition of her commitment to making the dream of equality and justice a reality for all."
On the world stage as an actress, she also became a symbol of civil rights and racial justice. Because of her contributions, she was a speaker at the funerals of both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Ruby Dee was a phenomenally rare artist and a jewel to our nation and community," said Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network. "I was privileged to work on several civil rights cases with her and her husband Ossie Davis. She was as committed to social justice as she was to the screen and stage. She will be greatly missed."