Actress Ruby Dee died this morning in New Rochelle, New York. She was 91. Reports say she died of natural causes. Dee was a breast cancer survivor.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She’s Ossie Davis’ Widow
Dee and Davis married in 1948. Her marriage to Davis was her second. She married Frankie Dee Brown in 1941 and they divorced in 1945.
Davis and Dee had an open marriage, which they discussed in their book, “With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together.” Davis’ description of the arrangement reads:
It occurred to us, from observation and reasoning, that extramarital sex was not what really destroyed marriages, but rather the lies and deception that invariably accompanied it — that was the culprit. So we decided to give ourselves permission to sleep with other partners if we wished — as long as what we did was honest as well as private, and that neither of us exposed the family to scandal or disease.
Dee said of the open marriage:
But, we both came to realize that we were very fortunate that, in all of the deep profound, fundamental ways, we really, really only wanted each other. It was like a rediscovery of something from the beginning. It’s not something that you’d recommend to everybody. But often Ossie has said – and I’ve though too – the best way to have somebody is to let it go.
2. She Was an Actress
Some of Dee’s most famous films included “The Jackie Robinson Story” and “A Raisin in the Sun.” She starred opposite Jackie Robinson himself in his namesake film and opposite Sidney Poitier in “A Raisin in the Sun.” She acted in films directed by Spike Lee including “Jungle Fever” and “Do the Right Thing.” Her most recent high-profile role was in the Denzel Washington film “American Gangster.” She played Mama Lucas. Watch the video above to see one of her scenes in the film.
Dee was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “American Gangster” at the 2007 Oscars. Althought she didn’t win the oscar, she won several awards including an Emmy, Grammy and Screen Actors Guild Award. She and Davis received the National Medal of Arts and Kennedy Center honors in 1995 and 2004, respectively.
3. She and Ossie Davis Were Civil Rights Activists
Dee and Davis were Civil Rights activists and personal friends of Malcom X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The couple served as the masters of ceremonies for 1963 March on Washington. Dee spoke at both Martin Luther King, Jr.’s and Malcolm X’s funerals.
Dee and Davis continued their civil rights work long after the end of the 1960s. According to USA Today, the couple was arrested in 1999 after protesting the death of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant in New York City.
4. She Grew Up in New York
Dee was born in Cleveland, Ohio as Ruby Ann Wallace. She grew up in Harlem in New York City where she began acting as a teenager. She graduated from New York City’s Hunter College with degrees in French and Spanish. Her father was a cook, waiter and porter and her mother was a teacher.
5. She Leaves Behind 3 Children
Dee and Davis had three children together: a son named Guy and two daughters named Nora and Hasna. Guy Davis is a blues musician.
Nora Davis Day said of her mother’s death:
We have had her for so long and we loved her so much. She took her final bow last night at home surrounded by her children and grandchildren. We gave her our permission to set sail. She opened her eyes, closed her eyes and away she went.