Actress, Civil Rights Agitator Ruby Dee Dead at 91

She and late husband, Ossie Davis, were fixtures on civil rights scene

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Jun 12, 2014 12:58 PM CDT

(Newser) – Ruby Dee, an acclaimed actor and civil rights activist whose versatile career spanned stage, radio television, and film, has died at age 91. Dee, who frequently acted alongside her husband of 56 years, Ossie Davis, was surrounded by family and friends at her home in New Rochelle, NY. Her long career brought her an Oscar nomination at age 83 for best supporting actress for her role in the 2007 film American Gangster. She also won an Emmy and was nominated for several others. Since meeting on Broadway in 1946, she and her late husband were frequent collaborators, but they were more than a performing couple. They were also activists who fought for civil rights, particularly for blacks.

"We used the arts as part of our struggle," she said in 2006. As young performers, they found themselves caught up in the debate over social and racial justice in the United States, and their push for social justice was lifelong: In 1999, the couple was arrested while protesting the shooting death of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, by New York City police. They were friends with baseball star Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel—Dee played her, opposite Robinson himself, in the 1950 movie The Jackie Robinson Story—and with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Dee and Davis served as masters of ceremonies for the 1963 March on Washington, and she spoke at the funerals for both King and Malcolm X. Among her best-known films was A Raisin in the Sun in 1961, and she also had a role in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing in 1989. On television, she was a leading cast member on soap operas in the 1950s and '60s, a rarity for black actresses of the era.

Ruby Dee poses with the award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a supporting role for her work in American Gangster at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2008.
Ruby Dee poses with the award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a supporting role for her work in "American Gangster" at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2008.   (Reed Saxon)
Ruby Dee in 2011.
Ruby Dee in 2011.   (Louis Lanzano)
Ruby Dee attends a screening of Frankie & Alice in New York in 2010.
Ruby Dee attends a screening of "Frankie & Alice" in New York in 2010.   (Peter Kramer)
Ruby Dee and Spike Lee attend a 20th anniversary screening of Do the Right Thing in New York in 2009.
Ruby Dee and Spike Lee attend a 20th anniversary screening of "Do the Right Thing" in New York in 2009.   (Peter Kramer)
This 2008 photo shows Ruby Dee backstage with the Chairman's award at the 39th NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles.
This 2008 photo shows Ruby Dee backstage with the Chairman's award at the 39th NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles.   (Gus Ruelas)
Ruby Dee is seen backstage with the Chairman's award at the 39th NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles in 2008.
Ruby Dee is seen backstage with the Chairman's award at the 39th NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles in 2008.   (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
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