Ruby Dee
Ruby Dee - 1972.jpg
Dee in 1972
Ruby Ann Wallace

(1922-10-27)October 27, 1922
DiedJune 11, 2014(2014-06-11) (aged 91)
Resting placeFerncliff Cemetery
Alma materHunter College (1945)
  • Actress
  • poet
  • playwright
  • screenwriter
  • journalist
  • activist
Years active1940–2013
Spouse(s)Frankie Dee Brown
(m. c. 1941; div. 1945)
(m. 1948; died 2005)
Children3, including Guy Davis

Ruby Dee (October 27, 1922 – June 11, 2014) was an American actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and civil rights activist.[1] She originated the role of "Ruth Younger" in the stage and film versions of A Raisin in the Sun (1961). Her other notable film roles include The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) and Do the Right Thing (1989).

Dee was married to Ossie Davis, with whom she frequently performed until his death in 2005.[2]

For her performance as Mama Lucas in American Gangster (2007), Dee was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Female Actor in a Supporting Role. Dee was a Grammy, Emmy, Obie and Drama Desk winner. She was also a National Medal of Arts, Kennedy Center Honors and Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award recipient.

Early life

Dee was born on October 27, 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio,[3] the daughter of Gladys (née Hightower) and Marshall Edward Nathaniel Wallace, a cook, waiter and porter.[4] After her mother left the family, Dee's father remarried, to Emma Amelia Benson, a schoolteacher.[5][6][7]

Dee was raised in Harlem, New York.[8] Prior to attending Hunter College High School, she studied at Public Schools 119 and 136.[9] Then, she went on to graduate from Hunter College with a degree in Romance languages in 1945.[10] She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta.[11]


Dee joined the American Negro Theatre as an apprentice, working with Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Hilda Simms.[10] She made several appearances on Broadway, such as her first role in ANT's 1946 production of Anna Lucasta.[12] Her first onscreen role was in That Man of Mine in 1946. She received national recognition for her role in the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story.[8] In 1965, Dee performed in lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival as Kate in The Taming of the Shrew and Cordelia in King Lear, becoming the first black actress to portray a lead role in the festival. Her career in acting crossed all major forms of media over a span of eight decades, including the films A Raisin in the Sun, in which she recreated her stage role as a suffering housewife in the projects, and Edge of the City. She played both roles opposite Poitier.[10]

Photo of a scene from the play A Raisin in the Sun. From left: Dee, (Ruth Younger); Claudia McNeil, (Lena Younger); Glynn Turman, (Travis Younger); Sidney Poitier, (Walter Younger) and John Fiedler, (Karl Lindner).
Photo of a scene from the play A Raisin in the Sun. From left: Dee, (Ruth Younger); Claudia McNeil, (Lena Younger); Glynn Turman, (Travis Younger); Sidney Poitier, (Walter Younger) and John Fiedler, (Karl Lindner).

During the 1960s, Dee appeared in Gone Are the Days! and The Incident. In 1969, Dee appeared in 20 episodes of Peyton Place.[8] She appeared as Cora Sanders, a Marxist college professor, in the Season 1/Episode 14 of Police Woman, entitled "Target Black" which aired on Friday night, January 3, 1975. The character of Cora Sanders was obviously, but loosely, influenced by the real-life Angela Davis. She appeared in one episode of The Golden Girls' sixth season. She played Queen Haley in Roots: The Next Generations, a 1979 miniseries.[8]

Dee was nominated for eight Emmy Awards, winning once for her role in the 1990 TV film Decoration Day.[citation needed] She was nominated for her television guest appearance in the China Beach episode, "Skylark". Her husband Ossie Davis (1917–2005) also appeared in the episode. She appeared in Spike Lee's 1989 film Do the Right Thing, and his 1991 film Jungle Fever.[8]

In 1995, she and Davis were awarded the National Medal of Arts.[13] They were also recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004. In 2003, she narrated a series of WPA & slave narratives in the HBO film Unchained Memories.[citation needed] In 2007 the winner of the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album was shared by Dee and Ossie Davis for With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together, and former President Jimmy Carter.[10][14]

Dee by Carl Van Vechten, September 25, 1962
Dee by Carl Van Vechten, September 25, 1962

Dee was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for her portrayal of Mama Lucas in American Gangster. She won the Screen Actors Guild award for the same performance. At 85 years of age, Dee is currently the third oldest nominee for Best Supporting Actress, behind Gloria Stuart and Judi Dench (both 87) when nominated for her role in American Gangster. This was Dee's only Oscar nomination.[15]

On February 12, 2009, Dee joined the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College orchestra and chorus, along with the Riverside Inspirational Choir and NYC Labor Choir, in honoring Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday at the Riverside Church in New York City. Under the direction of Maurice Peress, they performed Earl Robinson's The Lonesome Train: A Music Legend for Actors, Folk Singers, Choirs, and Orchestra, in which Dee was the narrator.[16]

Dee's last role in a theatrically released film was in the Eddie Murphy comedy A Thousand Words, in which she portrayed the mother of Murphy's protagonist. Perhaps, her penultimate film role is in 1982, which premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival[17] and was released on home video on March 1, 2016.[18] It is unknown whether her final role will ever be seen, as King Dog was in production at the time of her death,[19] and no release date has ever been announced.

Personal life and activism

Ruby Wallace married blues singer Frankie Dee Brown in 1941, and began using his middle name as her stage name. The couple divorced in 1945.[10] Three years later she married actor Ossie Davis, whom she met while costarring in Robert Ardrey's 1946 Broadway play Jeb.[20] Together, Dee and Davis wrote an autobiography in which they discussed their political activism and their decision to have an open marriage (later changing their views).[21][22] Together they had three children: son, blues musician Guy Davis, and two daughters, Nora Day and Hasna Muhammad. Dee was a breast cancer survivor of more than three decades.[23]

Dee speaking in 2006
Dee speaking in 2006

In 1979, the Supersisters trading card set was produced and distributed; one of the cards featured Dee's name and picture.[24]

Dee and Davis were well-known civil rights activists in the Civil Rights Movement.[25] Dee was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was also as an active member of the Harlem Writers Guild for over 40 years. In 1963, Dee emceed the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.[26] Dee and Davis were both personal friends of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, with Davis giving the eulogy at Malcolm X's funeral in 1965.[27] In 1970, she won the Frederick Douglass Award from the New York Urban League.[8]

Dee (right) with activist and opera star Stacey Robinson in 1998
Dee (right) with activist and opera star Stacey Robinson in 1998

In 1999, Dee and Davis were arrested at 1 Police Plaza, the headquarters of the New York Police Department, protesting the police shooting of Amadou Diallo.[28]

In early 2003, The Nation published "Not in Our Name", an open proclamation vowing opposition to the impending US invasion of Iraq. Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis were among the signatories, along with Robert Altman, Noam Chomsky, Susan Sarandon, and Howard Zinn, among others.[citation needed]

In November 2005, Dee was awarded – along with her late husband – the Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award, presented by the National Civil Rights Museum located in Memphis. Dee, a long-time resident of New Rochelle, New York, was inducted into the New Rochelle Walk of Fame which honors the most notable residents from throughout the community's 325-year history. She was also inducted into the Westchester County Women's Hall of Fame on March 30, 2007, joining such other honorees as Hillary Clinton and Nita Lowey.[29] In 2009, she received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Princeton University.[14][30]


Dee died on June 11, 2014, at her home in New Rochelle, New York, from natural causes at the age of 91.[31] In a statement, Gil Robertson IV of the African-American Film Critics Association said, "the members of the African American Film Critics Association are deeply saddened at the loss of actress and humanitarian Ruby Dee. Throughout her seven-decade career, Dee embraced different creative platforms with her various interpretations of black womanhood and also used her gifts to champion for Human Rights."[8]

"She very peacefully surrendered", said her daughter Nora Day. "We hugged her, we kissed her, we gave her our permission to go. She opened her eyes. She looked at us. She closed her eyes, and she set sail." Following her death, the marquee on the Apollo Theater read: "A TRUE APOLLO LEGEND RUBY DEE 1922–2014".[32]

Dee was cremated, and her ashes are held in the same urn as that of Davis, with the inscription "In this thing together".[10] A public memorial celebration honoring Dee was held on September 20, 2014, at the Riverside Church in Upper Manhattan.[33] Their shared urn was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.[34]



Ruby Dee and Joel Fluellen (center) inThe Jackie Robinson Story (1950)
Ruby Dee and Joel Fluellen (center) in
The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)
Year Title Role Note
1946 That Man of Mine[8] Joan First film
1947 Easy to Get[35] Drugstore girl U.S. Army venereal disease training film
The Fight Never Ends[36] Jane
1948 What a Guy [36]
1950 The Jackie Robinson Story Rae Robinson
No Way Out Connie Brooks Uncredited
1951 The Tall Target Rachel
1954 Go, Man, Go! Irma Jackson
1956 Mrs. Ashlow Uncredited
1957 Edge of the City Lucy Tyler
1958 St. Louis Blues Elizabeth
Virgin Island Ruth
1959 Take a Giant Step Christine
1961 A Raisin in the Sun Ruth Younger
1963 The Balcony Thief
Gone Are the Days! Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins
1967 The Incident Joan Robinson
1968 Up Tight! Laurie
1970 King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis Documentary
1972 Buck and the Preacher Ruth
Black Girl Netta's Mother
1973 Wattstax
1976 Countdown at Kusini [37] Leah Matanzima
1982 Cat People Female
1989 Do the Right Thing Mother Sister
1990 Love at Large Corrine Dart
1991 Jungle Fever Lucinda Purify
1993 Color Adjustment Narrator Documentary
Cop and a Half Rachel
1994 The Stand Mother Abagail Freemantle
1995 Just Cause Evangeline
1997 A Simple Wish Hortense
1998 A Time to Dance: The Life and Work of Norma Canner Narrator Documentary[37]
1999 Baby Geniuses[37] Margo
2003 Beah: A Black Woman Speaks Herself Documentary
2006 No. 2 Nanna Maria
The Way Back Home Maude
2007 All About Us[37] Ms. Ella
American Gangster Mama Lucas
Steam Doris
2009 The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll[37] Miss Candy
2010 Dream Street Laura [38]
2011 Video Girl Valerie [39]
Politics of Love[37] Grandma 'Estelle' Roseanne Gupta
Red & Blue Marbles[37] Professor June Wright
2012 Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey With Mumia Abu-Jamal [40]
A Thousand Words Annie McCall [37]
2013 Betty & Coretta Narrator [41]
1982 Rose Brown Final role

Short subjects:




This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (August 2016) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Awards and nominations




See also


  1. ^ "Ruby Dee". Encyclopædia Britannica. June 7, 2020. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  2. ^ Oscar-Nominated Actress Ruby Dee Dies at 91 Carmel Dagan. Variety. June 12, 2014. Retrieved March 30, 2016
  3. ^ "Ruby Dee marks 90th birthday with new documentary about her illustrious life with late husband Ossie Davis", New York Daily News, November 13, 2012.
  4. ^ Watson, Elwood (December 5, 2013). "Dee, Ruby Ann Wallace (1924-2014)". Retrieved April 17, 2015.
  5. ^ Davis, Ossie; Dee, Ruby (1998). "Ruby Is Born at Seven". With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together. William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-17582-1. Retrieved July 30, 2008.
  6. ^ Gates, Henry Louis (2005). Arts and Letters: An A-To-Z Reference of Writers, Musicians, and Artists of the African American Experience. Running Press. ISBN 0-7624-2042-1.
  7. ^ Lyman, Darryl (2005). Great African-American Women. Jonathan David Company, Inc. ISBN 0-8246-0459-8.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Screen, stage legend Ruby Dee dies at 91". CNN. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  9. ^ "Talented Ruby Dee Plays the Wife of Neurosurgeon in 'Peyton Place'". Schnectady Gazette. September 1968. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Halzack, Sarah (October 27, 1922). "Ruby Dee, actress and civil rights activist, dies at 91". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  11. ^ Delta Sigma Theta website Archived October 13, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Warfield, Polly (March 7, 2001). "Remembering Ruby Dee in Anna Lucasta". Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  13. ^ Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts Archived July 21, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ a b "6 great moments from Ruby Dee's legendary career | Entertain This!". Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  15. ^ "Who are the oldest Oscar nominees?". Yardbarker. February 16, 2022. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  16. ^ "". February 1, 2009. Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  17. ^ Zeba Blay, "TIFF 2013 Reviews – Tommy Oliver’s Debut ‘1982’ Provides A Platform For Hill Harper To Shine", IndieWire, September 13, 2013.
  18. ^ "VideoETA - 1982 (2015) DVD and Blu-ray". Archived from the original on January 21, 2016. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  19. ^ "Ruby Dee, 'A Raisin in the Sun' actress, dies at 91", Penn Live, June 12, 2014.
  20. ^ a b c Felicia R. Lee (April 20, 1995). "At home with: Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; Art and Politics: Keeping It All Fresh". The New York Times. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  21. ^ Sheri Stritof; Bob Stritof. "Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee on Open Marriage". Retrieved January 11, 2007.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  22. ^ "Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee on Open Marriage". Retrieved July 30, 2008.
  23. ^ "Oscar Nominee Ruby Dee Dead at 91 – ABC News". ABC News. October 16, 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  24. ^ Wulf, Steve (March 23, 2015). "Supersisters: Original Roster". ESPN. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  25. ^ The official site of Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee,; accessed March 3, 2014.
  26. ^ a b Mark Kennedy. "Ruby Dee's legacy of activism, acting mourned – Houston Chronicle". Archived from the original on June 13, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  27. ^ Davis, Ossie (February 27, 1965). "Malcolm X's Eulogy". The Official Website of Malcolm X. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved September 6, 2009.
  28. ^ "Showbuzz – March 24, 1999". CNN. March 24, 1999. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  29. ^ "Ruby Dee To Be Named To Women's Hall Of Fame". March 6, 2007. Archived from the original on May 6, 2007. Retrieved January 23, 2008.
  30. ^ Princeton awards five honorary degrees (news release) News at Princeton. Princeton University. June 2, 2009. Retrieved May 3, 2016
  31. ^ NEUMAIER, Joe (June 12, 2014). "Ruby Dee dead at 91". New York Daily News. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  32. ^ Denis Slattery, Joe Dziemianowicz, Larry McShane, "Ruby Dee dead at 91: Legendary stage and screen actress — and Civil Rights leader — frequently costarred with husband Ossie Davis", Daily News (New York), June 12, 2014.
  33. ^ "Memorial Honoring Ruby Dee Held At Riverside Church", CBS, New York, September 20, 2014.
  34. ^ Celebrities & Notables Interred at: Ferncliff Mausoleum. Retrieved June 12, 2023.
  35. ^ "Medical Movies on the Web". June 6, 2014. Retrieved April 20, 2023.
  36. ^ a b c d "Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee: Ruby Dee Film Credits". Archived from the original on July 4, 2014. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  37. ^ a b c d e f g h "Ruby Dee – Filmography – Movies & TV". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2014. Archived from the original on July 16, 2014. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  38. ^ Yahoo Movies. "Dream Street". Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  39. ^ ""Video Girl" Starring Meagan Good, Ruby Dee On DVD and Blu Ray This Week|Shadow and Act". Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  40. ^ "Now You Too Will Be Able To See 'Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal'|Shadow and Act". Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  41. ^ Sharp, Diamond. "Ruby Dee: Advice From a Legend". The Root. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  42. ^ Mary Emblen; Alvin Klein (January 29, 1995). "New Jersey Guide – 'Star Trek' Exhibition". The New York Times. Retrieved June 13, 2014.((cite news)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  43. ^ Scott, Jill (April 10, 2014). "Ruby Dee: Jill Scott, Kerry Washington and More on the Grande Dame". Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  44. ^ Feb, Posted (February 20, 2001). "SAG Life Achievement Award Goes To Ossie, Ruby". Backstage. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  45. ^ "The New Metropolis Airing Tuesday Nights on LMC-TV". Archived from the original on June 15, 2014. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  46. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z "Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee: Dee Television Credits". Archived from the original on June 18, 2014. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  47. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae "Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee: Ruby Dee Stage Credits". December 9, 1948. Archived from the original on May 30, 2014. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  48. ^ "Smithsonian Folkways – The Original Read-In for Peace in Vietnam – Various Artists". March 20, 2013. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  49. ^ "Langston Hughes – The Most Abused Poet in America?". The New York Times. June 29, 1969. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  50. ^ "Smithsonian Folkways – What if I am a Woman?, Vol. 1: Black Women's Speeches – Ruby Dee". March 20, 2013. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  51. ^ "Smithsonian Folkways – What if I am a Woman?, Vol. 2: Black Women's Speeches – Ruby Dee". March 20, 2013. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  52. ^ "Smithsonian Folkways – Every Tone a Testimony – Various Artists". March 20, 2013. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  53. ^ "Oscar-Nominated Actress Ruby Dee Dead at 91". Deadline. May 21, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  54. ^ a b c d e f g h i Carmel Dagan. "Ruby Dee Dead: Oscar-Nominated Actress Appeared in Spike Lee Films". Variety. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  55. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame Adds Nine New Names". The New York Times. November 22, 1988.
  56. ^ "Past Recipients: Crystal Award". Women In Film. Archived from the original on August 30, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  57. ^ "'Missed but never forgotten' _ Ruby Dee's legacy of activism and acting mourned". Star Tribune. Archived from the original on June 14, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  58. ^ Women of Vision Awards.
  59. ^ Leeds, Jeff; Manly, Lorne (February 12, 2007). "Defiant Dixie Chicks Are Big Winners at the Grammys". The New York Times. Retrieved September 20, 2015.
  60. ^ "Iconic Actress and Activist Ruby Dee Dead at 91". Atlanta Black Star. June 12, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  61. ^ a b Hershenson, Roberta (February 3, 2008). "For Ruby Dee at 83, Acclaim and Performances". The New York Times. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  62. ^ "Daughter: Ruby Dee, Val-Kill medal winner, dead at 91". The Associated Press 2:14 p.m. EDT June 12, 2014. November 17, 2010. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  63. ^ "NAACP Spingarn Medal". Archived from the original on August 2, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  64. ^ "Clifford Leads All Toon Nods At Daytime Emmy | Animation World Network". May 18, 2001. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  65. ^ "Indiantelevision dot com's Breaking News: 10 nominations for Nick in the daytime Emmy". March 22, 2003. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  66. ^ "Nominations Announced for the 16th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards®". Sag-Aftra. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  67. ^ "Nominees for 41st NAACP Image Awards announced live at press conference by Taye Diggs, Michael Strahan, Wanda Sykes, Kyle Massey, Chris Massey, Tatyana Ali and NAACP executives" (Press release). NAACP. Archived from the original on July 25, 2010. Retrieved June 13, 2014.