As a beloved actress and civil rights activist, Ruby Dee was a force for equality. Whether she was speaking out against racism in a 1955 film or master of ceremonies at the 1963 March on Washington, she made her mark on American culture.
Born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 27, 1922, she grew up in New York’s Harlem district and was trained at the American Negro Theatre (ANT), which educated talents such as Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. She also studied at Hunter College in Manhattan, where she met her future husband, actor Ossie Davis.
She and Davis became close friends of Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and she often played the role of eulogist at their funerals.
The couple became a productive artistic and activist partnership, appearing together in many plays and films over the years. Their most celebrated work included Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Davis’ satiric Purlie Victorious, both of which they co-starred in on stage and in their respective film adaptations.
Throughout her career, she was associated with various left-wing causes, from opposition to McCarthyite witch-hunts to anti-Vietnam war activity to support for the civil rights movement. But she was also a member of the American Stalinist party, and her attitude toward the collapse of the Soviet Union can be gathered from her poem “I’m Going to Miss the Russians.”
Her talent as an artist and her courage as an activist remain an inspiration to those who follow in her footsteps. Twice during Sunday’s Tony Awards, she was praised as a leader and role model, a legacy that will be continued.