Who could forget the charismatic Ruby Dee? She was an actress, civil rights activist, mother and grandmother, and wife of the late actor Ossie Davis. Last week, Dee passed away at the age of 91.
Most of us remember her as the fiery, neighborhood matriarch Mother Sister in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” in 1989 where she starred opposite Davis, but she held so many more roles way before that.
Her career began as a member of the American Negro Theater and over her 70 years as an acclaimed actress on stage and screen, she’s appeared in countless plays and films including, “A Raisin in the Sun” in 1961 and “American Gangster” in 2007. For these memorable roles, she’s earned Emmy, Drama Desk, Screen Actors Guild and Obie awards as well as the National Medal of Arts award and a Kennedy Center Honor award. Dee was also an integral part of the civil rights movement, participating in several protests and marches across the nation including, The March on Washington in Washington, D.C., in 1963. Both she and her husband, “Ossie and Ruby,” as they were affectionately called, were beloved by the acting community as well as their family.
One of those family members is Dee’s grandson, Muta ‘Ali. In 2012, we interviewed Ali about “Life’s Essentials”, a documentary he was working on about his grandmother’s life. That documentary came to fruition this year. After Dee’s passing, Ali released the following statement:
“The outpouring of love and condolences to the family has truly bolstered our spirits during this difficult time. Though it is painful, I believe she has transitioned to a better place. In one of our conversations, Gram Ruby said, ‘I’ve come to the conclusion we really don’t know death. I don’t know anything that really dies. I’ve thought about it since Ossie’s gone…and I feel his presence.’”
“I cannot stress enough the importance of deliberately speaking with loved ones about life while we still can. After losing Grandpa, I sat down with Gram Ruby to learn as much as I could about how to be a better person. The story within the documentary unfolds through her conversations with me, archival footage and interviews with family and friends. What I realize is that their lives have not only an historical impact but also a contemporary significance to anyone struggling with love, art and activism today. The story presents my personal perspective on the power of Gram Ruby and Grandpa’s lives as I struggle to hold on to my grandmother and make the most of what she imparts. I thank her so much for taking the time to do that.”
Click here to view photos from Ruby Dee’s 90th Birthday Celebration event at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.