Editors’ Note: An earlier version of this post, as well as an accompanying breaking news alert, incorrectly stated that Ruby Dee had won an Oscar for her role in American Gangster. Dee was nominated for the award but did not win.
Ruby Dee, an actress and civil rights activist who built a career on stage and screen at a time when African-Americans had few such opportunities, has died at age 91.
Cleveland-born Dee, who was married for 56 years to fellow actor Ossie Davis until his death in 2005, also won an Emmy and was nominated for several others, The Associated Press reports.
Perhaps Dee’s best-known role was as Ruth Younger, the weary wife and mother in the 1961 film A Raisin in the Sun. She starred alongside Sidney Poitier. Dee was also nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for the 2007 film American Gangster.
NPR’s Elizabeth Blair reports that Dee, whose career spanned 70 years, “was known for a graceful intensity on screen and stage.”
“In 2005, Dee and Davis received the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Freedom award. Davis died in February of that year.
“Dee’s first film role came in 1949, in the musical drama That Man of Mine. She played Rachel Robinson in The Jackie Robinson Story in 1950, and costarred opposite Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt and Cab Calloway in St. Louis Blues (1958).”
“Beyond her artistic work, Dee is best known for her work as an activist. She was long a member of such organizations as the Congress of Racial Equality, the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She and Davis were personal friends of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, whose eulogy Davis gave in 1965, two years after Dee gave a stirring reading at King’s March on Washington.”
Blair says the couple were leaders in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963 and actively promoted the works of fellow Black artists.
The AP says:
“Since meeting on Broadway in 1946, she and her late husband were frequent collaborators. Their partnership rivaled the achievements of other celebrated performing couples, such as Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.
“But they were more than a performing couple. They were also activists who fought for civil rights, particularly for blacks.
” ‘We used the arts as part of our struggle,’ she said at an appearance in Jackson, Miss., in 2006. ‘Ossie said he knew he had to conduct himself differently with skill and thought.’ ”