Ruby Dee

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On October 27, 1922 Ruby Ann Wallace was born to parents Gladys Hightower and Marshall Edward Nathaniel Wallace. Ruby’s family lived in Cleveland, Ohio until her parents divorced moving her to Harlem, New York. While attending Hunter College High School she began studying acting at the American Negro Theater. Ruby Ann Wallace became Ruby Dee during her years with the American Negro Theater. She also submitted poetry to a black newspaper called the Amsterdam News. After high school she attended Hunter College where she earned her degree in romance languages. She took a radio training class offered by the American Theater Wing. Her training helped her earn a part in the radio serial Nora Drake.

After graduation Ruby worked as a French and Spanish translator until 1946. Her first on screen role was in the movie The Man of Mine. That same year she earned the title role in ANT’s Broadway production of Anna Lucasta. She also met her future husband Mr. Ozzie Davis performing in the play titled Jeb. In 1948 Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis were married and the couple gave birth to three children. In 1950 Ruby Dee played the role of Jackie Robinson’s wife in The Jackie Robinson Story. That same year she also appeared in the movie No Way Out. In 1957 she appeared in the movie Edge of the City.

1959 was the year that Ruby Dee stared in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, which brought her national acclaim as an actress.In both Edge of the City and A Raisin in the Sun Ruby Dee stared opposite of Sidney Poitier. Next she would join her husband to star in the play Purlie Victorious; which was written by Ozzie Davis. In 1963 both Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis teamed up again for the on screen adaptation of Purlie Victorious. The two would team up several more times in their career to produce movies and social change. In 1965 Ruby Dee became the first African-American actress to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival. She also became the first African American actress to be featured on Peyton Place in 1968. She then starred in the critically acclaimed play Boesman and Lena in 1970. In 1979 her musical satire Take it from the Top opened in New York City.

Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis were are forced to be reckoned with in the Civil Rights Movement.  They spoke out openly against racism and Jim Crow. The projects they designed together were meant to uplift the black population. In 1974 they both produced the Ruby Dee/Ozzie Davis Story Hour on the National Black Network. In 1981 the couple produced With Ozzie and Ruby for PBS. This television series allowed Ruby Dee to connect with black authors around the country. She felt that the authors helped put the black experience into perspective. Ruby and Ozzie both supported their friend Dr. Martin Luther King and his march on Washington. Ruby denounced the government’s decision to execute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953. Ruby and Ozzie were once again honored for their efforts; they received the Frederick Douglas Award for leadership towards equality in 1970.

In 1989 both Ozzie and Ruby starred in Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee. Ruby later received an Emmy for her role in Decoration Day in 1991. 1998 Ruby and Ozzie published their book With Ozzie and Ruby: In This Life Together. The couple was married for 50 years until Ozzie Davis’ transition in 2005. Later that year the couple won a Grammy Award for the audio version of their book With Ozzie and Ruby. June 11, 2014 marked the transition of Ruby Dee. This remarkable woman kicked down doors of adversity and racism, and left a trail of greatness for generations of black women to follow.  Miss Ruby Dee, we proudly stand on your shoulders.

J.A. Ward.

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