The 56-year personal, artistic, and humanitarian partnership of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis stands as a great marriage of talent coupled with a shared commitment to a better world. Over the years, singly and together, they received numerous honors as performers and activists. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee were voted into the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame together in 1989, awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1995, received the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award for their career and humanitarian achievements in 2001, and in 2004 they received one of this country’s most prestigious artistic accolades – the Kennedy Center Honors. Actor, writer, producer, activist Ossie Davis, who died in February of this year, was frequently at the forefront of events that marked large public and positive changes for African-Americans throughout the second half of the 20th century. He was an emcee at the 1963 March on Washington and delivered the eulogy for Malcolm X.
In his joint autobiography with Ms. Dee, With Ossie & Ruby: In This Life Together, Mr. Davis noted the special impact that Marian Anderson had upon him and his career beginning with her Easter Sunday concert in 1939: “I remember most that voice, that indescribable voice that held seventy-five thousand people in its arms and rocked us like a baby. It inspired us, calmed our fears, and carried us up to the mountaintop…It was for me an act of definition as well as defiance, with its own salute to the black Struggle. It married in my mind forever the performing arts as a weapon in the struggle for freedom. It made a connection that, for me and for thousands of other artists, has never been severed. It was a proclamation and a commitment. I have been in love with Marian Anderson ever since.” That blend of art and activism, apparent in all his work, shone most particularly in his writings — “For Us The Living,” an award-winning teleplay based on the life of Medgar Evers; Escape to Freedom, a children’s play about Frederick Douglass, which the American Library Association honored with the Coretta Scott King Award; Just Like Martin, a children’s novel set in Alabama during the civil rights era, and Mr. Davis’ best-known work, the anti-segregation satire, Purlie Victorious, which debuted on Broadway in 1961.
A full partner in their shared commitment to activism, Ruby Dee is passionate about her vision for change. As a child, she walked the picket lines with her mother, protesting job discrimination on Harlem’s 125th Street; since that time, she has been involved with many causes and organizations, including the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women. In 1970, she along with her husband was honored with the New York Urban League’s Frederick Douglass Award. Her early career on stage and screen catapulted her to the public eye and critical success due to an extraordinary combination of talent and beauty about which she was never over-awed, “the kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within — strength, courage, dignity.” Those qualities she has found in abundance in all the work she has chosen throughout her career. In recognition of her acting, she has received an Obie, two Drama Desk Awards, and an Emmy Award. She was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 1988. Ms. Dee has also adapted several works for the stage (including her own book of poetry and short stories, My One Good Nerve), and has written a full-length original musical, Take It From the Top. She is also the author of two children’s books, Tower to Heaven and Literary Guild Award-winner Two Ways to Count to Ten.