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
Actress, Civil Rights Agitator Ruby Dee Dead at 91
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, 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. (More Ruby Dee stories.)

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