Ruby Dee
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 Award, Emmy Award, Obie Award and Drama Desk Award 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).

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 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 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 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. Her final 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

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

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) 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
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 Herself Documentary
1972 Buck and the Preacher Ruth
Black Girl Netta's Mother
1973 Wattstax Herself
1975 Lorraine Hansberry: The Black Experience in the Creation of Drama[37] Herself Short
1976 Countdown at Kusini[38] Leah Matanzima
1980 The Torture of Mothers[36] Short
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
1995 Just Cause Evangeline
Tuesday Morning Ride[39] Jennie Short
1997 A Simple Wish Hortense
1998 A Time to Dance: The Life and Work of Norma Canner Narrator Documentary[38]
1999 Baby Geniuses[38] Margo
The Unfinished Journey[40] Narrator Short
2003 Beah: A Black Woman Speaks Herself Documentary
2006 No. 2 Nanna Maria
The Way Back Home Maude
2007 All About Us[38] Ms. Ella
American Gangster Mama Lucas
Steam Doris
2009 The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll[38] Miss Candy
The New Neighbors[41] Narrator Short
2010 Dream Street Laura [42]
2011 Video Girl Valerie [43]
Politics of Love[38] Grandma 'Estelle' Roseanne Gupta
Red & Blue Marbles[38] Professor June Wright
2012 Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey With Mumia Abu-Jamal Herself [44]
A Thousand Words Annie McCall [38]
2013 1982 Rose Brown Final role


Year Title Role Note
1960–1961 Play of the Week Lila / Jane 2 episodes
1961 Frontiers of Faith[45] Grace Gilmore Episode: "The Bitter Cup"
1962 Seven Times Monday[45] Lila TV movie
1963 Alcoa Premiere Irene Clayton Episode: "Impact of an Execution"
1963 The Doctors and the Nurses Jenny Bishop Episode: "Express Stop from Lenox Avenue"
1963 The Fugitive[45] Laura Smith Episode: "Decision in the Ring"
1963 The Great Adventure[45] Harriet Tubman Episode: "Go Down, Moses"
1963 East Side West Side Marilyn Marsden Episode: "No Hiding Place"
1964 Of Courtship and Marriage[45] TV movie
1965 The Defenders Catherine Collins Episode: "The Sworn Twelve"
1966 Armchair Theatre Vicky Kingsbury Episode: "Neighbours"
1967 Guiding Light Martha Frazier Cast member[45]
1968–1969 Peyton Place Alma Miles 25 episodes
1969 The Bold Ones: The Protectors Lucinda Episode: "Deadlock"[45]
1970 Sesame Street Herself
1971 The Sheriff[45] Sue Ann Lucas TV movie
1973 Tenafly Jan Lennox Episode: "The Window That Wasn't"
1974 It's Good to Be Alive[45] Ruth Campanella TV movie
1975 Police Woman Cora Sanders Episode: "Target Black"
1978 Watch Your Mouth Mrs. Fullo Episode: "The Outcast"
1979 Roots: The Next Generations Queen Haley Miniseries[45]
1979 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings[45] Grandmother Baxter TV movie
1980 All God's Children[45] Irene Whitfield TV movie
1980–1982 With Ossie and Ruby![45] Herself
1982 Long Day's Journey into Night Mary Tyrone TV movie
1985 Go Tell It on the Mountain Mrs. Grimes TV movie
1985 The Atlanta Child Murders Faye Williams Miniseries
1987 Spenser: For Hire Eleanor Simpson Episode: "Personal Demons"
1987 Crown Dick Johnson's Mother TV movie
1988 Windmills of the Gods[45] Dorothy 2 episodes
1988 Gore Vidal's Lincoln[45] Elizabeth Keckley 2 episodes
1990 Zora Is My Name! Zora Neale Hurston TV movie
1990 American Experience Narrator Episode: "Roots of Resistance: The Story of the Underground Railroad"
1990 China Beach Ruby Episode: "Skylark"
1990 The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson[45] Jackie's Mother TV movie
1990 The Golden Girls[45] Mammy Watkins Episode: "Wham, Bam, Thank You, Mammy"
1990 Decoration Day[45] Rowena TV movie
1991 Jazztime Tale Narrator[36] TV movie
1992 Middle Ages Estelle Williams 2 episodes
1993 The Ernest Green Story Mrs. Lydia Wilson TV movie
1993 Evening Shade Aurelia Danforth Episode: "They Can't Take That Away from Me"
1994 The Stand Mother Abagail Freemantle Miniseries
1994 Whitewash[45] Grandmother (voice) TV movie
1995 American Masters Narrator Episode: "Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul"
1996 Mr. and Mrs. Loving[45] Sophia TV movie
1996 Captive Heart: The James Mink Story Indigo TV movie
1998 The Wall[45] Mrs. Mitchell TV movie
1998 Promised Land Alicia Episode: "Baptism of Fire"
1998 Cosby Mattie Episode: "Ol' Betsy"
1999–2004 Little Bill Alice the Great (voice) 47 episodes
1999 Passing Glory Mommit Porter TV movie
1999 Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years Bessie Delany TV movie
1999 Touched by an Angel LaBelle Springbelt Episode: "The Christmas Gift"
2000 A Storm in Summer[45] Grandmother TV movie
2000 Finding Buck McHenry[45] Mrs. Henry TV movie
2000 Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Grandma (voice) Episode: "The Steadfast Tin Soldier"
2001 Between the Lions Woodcutter's Wife Episode: "Bug Beard"
2001 The Feast of All Saints Elsie Claviere Miniseries
2001 Taking Back Our Town[45] Emelda West TV movie
2004 Fatherhood Louise (voice) Episode: "It's a Dad, Dad World"
2005 Their Eyes Were Watching God Nanny TV movie
2007 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Mary Wilson Episode: "Empty Eyes"
2008 Meet Mary Pleasant Herself TV movie
2009 America Mrs. Harper TV movie
2013 Betty & Coretta Narrator TV movie[46]



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Awards and nominations

Year Awards Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1961 National Board of Review Awards Best Supporting Actress A Raisin in the Sun Won [53]
1964 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role The Doctors and the Nurses (Episode: "Express Stop from Lenox Avenue") Won [45]
1971 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Performance Boesman and Lena Won [54]
Obie Awards Best Performance by an Actress Won [54][20]
1973 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Performance Wedding Band Won [20]
1979 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special Roots: The Next Generations Nominated [54]
1988 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Special Lincoln Nominated [54]
American Theater Hall of Fame Induction Herself Won [55]
1990 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series China Beach (Episode: "Skylark") Nominated [54]
1991 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Decoration Day Won [10]
Women in Film Crystal Award Herself Won [56]
1993 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Evening Shade (Episode: "They Can't Take That Away from Me") Nominated [54]
1995 United States Congress National Medal of Arts Herself Won [54]
Daytime Emmy Awards Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program Whitewash Nominated [45]
1997 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Event Captive Heart: The James Mink Story Nominated [57]
2000 Screen Actors Guild Awards Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award Herself Won [58]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Event Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years Nominated
2001 Daytime Emmy Awards Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program Little Bill Nominated [59]
2002 Lucille Lortel Awards Outstanding Actress Saint Lucy's Eyes Nominated [54]
2003 Daytime Emmy Awards Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program Little Bill Nominated [60]
Women in Film and Television International Women in Film & Video-DC Women of Vision Awards Herself Won [61]
2007 Grammy Awards Best Spoken Word Album(tied with Jimmy Carter) With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together Won [10][62]
2008 African–American Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actress American Gangster Won [63]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Nominated [64]
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role Won [26][64]
Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture Nominated [10]
Satellite Awards Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Nominated [65]
Academy Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role Nominated [54]
Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill The Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal Award Herself Won [66]
NAACP Spingarn Medal Won [67]
2010 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries America Nominated [68]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Event Nominated [69]


See also


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  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
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  15. ^ "Who are the oldest Oscar nominees?". Yardbarker. February 16, 2022. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
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  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)
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  28. ^ "Showbuzz – March 24, 1999". CNN. March 24, 1999. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
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  30. ^ Princeton awards five honorary degrees (news release) News at Princeton. Princeton University. June 2, 2009. Retrieved May 3, 2016
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  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.
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